Juicy Red Tomatoes

Peñon Street WP
Illustration – Angelica Westerhoff

SEÑOR ALVAREZ HEAVED a box brimming with juicy red tomatoes up from the floor with a grunt. “This lot will have them through the door quicker than a gang of armed vampires raiding a blood bank,” he said to nobody in particular, as nobody in particular was there to hear. Humping it towards the front of the shop he dumped it on an upended crate by the door. “They won’t be able to resist these.” The grocer blew a sigh of satisfaction. “They’ll be gone in next to no time.”

His mini-supermarket bereft of customers, Señor Alvarez carried on wittering to himself, as he so often did when alone, which he so often was.

“They must be the biggest, reddest and ripest tomatoes in the whole of Santa Catalina. So juicy.” Picking one up he examined it for blemishes, taking care not to bruise it before sorting out the best to put on top. “And they’re all mine.” He placed it back among the others. “Not for long though. Not these.”

Having spent some time polishing and arranging each tomato to its best advantage, he straightened his back and rested his palms on his haunches. “Not bad at all, not bad at all.” With that he went back into the shop.

“What a prize chump that Sanchez is,” he said, “thinking he can get the better of an old hand like me. Take more than a half-baked nincompoop for that. We’ll see who the biggest idiot is when this lot starts flying out.” But something about his voice suggested he wasn’t quite so sure of himself as he was trying to make out. The tomatoes had been cheap. Suspiciously cheap. Sanchez had folded far too willingly in accepting the very first offer the grocer made. Normally, he’d quibble over every centimo.

“I don’t like it; I don’t like it at all.” Taken aback by the loudness of his own voice, Luis Alvarez glanced over his shoulder to make sure nobody had slipped in through the door to hear him. Of course, they hadn’t. He sighed with relief, secure in the knowledge he was alone.

He felt the sudden urge to scurry to the door and take another look at the tomatoes, as though half-expecting them to have perished. Once there, they looked just as good as before, if not better. Yet, magnificent as they were, something niggled. He couldn’t help thinking they were too good to be true.

In an effort to moving his musings away from his growing doubts about the tomatoes, he gazed out the door and into the world beyond his little emporium. A cheerful sun shone out of skies blue as blue. What a beautiful day. The simplest pleasures are always the best.

Sniffing the clear bright air, Señor Alvarez let escape a breath of contentment. Life was good, in the main, very good. Fact was, Sanchez didn’t know what he’d got. The old fool must be getting senile. Nobody could resist tomatoes like those. Especially when they were the first things they saw on entering the shop. There were few more exquisite feelings than getting the better of someone less intelligent than oneself. Still as sharp as a tack, and with a face as hard and straight as a metal rule, the grocer had told the pensioner there was no demand for tomatoes. The market was as flat as a pancake. No demand? People were crying out for them, yet the grocer had snaffled the lot for a pittance. You had to get up early to catch Señor Alvarez out. He smiled, allowing himself a few moments more to savour his accomplishment.

In this chirpy frame of mind he glanced up the street to the brow of the hill, when the skies appeared to darken all of a sudden. His eyes narrowed to slits. On the horizon he spied two familiar silhouettes heading his way. One sauntering, the other scampering, they appeared not to share a care between them. There being no time to shutter the windows and lock the doors, a grimace took hold of the grocer’s face. As the silhouettes approached even closer he raised an eyebrow. If he could best old Sanchez, he could best anybody. Gradually his grimace was displaced by a grin; this could be his chance to turn a bad omen into a golden opportunity. Clapping his hands he rubbed them together. It promised to be a very good day indeed.

Hands in pockets, straw hat tipped back, Pedro was whistling his way towards the grocer’s shop, his scruffy dog in tow. Señor Alvarez looked down at his delicious red fruits and pondered. Though the fisherman couldn’t fail to be transported by the sight of such juicy red tomatoes he still owed him for four slices of ham and a loaf. Probably thought the grocer had forgotten all about them. Well, he hadn’t. But Pedro never had any money with him. And even if he had, getting him to part with it was an entirely different matter.

Still, Señor Alvarez would have to look on the bright side. See it as a challenge. Life was full of challenges. There was always the chance Pedro could’ve come into a packet. He might have won the lottery. Señor Alvarez swiftly banished the ridiculous fancy with a shake of his head. Not a chance in hell. Yet he had to think positive. He steeled his mind with positivity. It would take the skill of a brain surgeon to prise a few coins from Pedro’s pocket. He had that skill. He had it. He pictured the fisherman being drawn inexorably towards the tomatoes. Like an innocent fawn caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, the instant their splendour caught his eye he would freeze in his tracks. Held in their trance, he would extend a hand to pluck one up and put it to his mouth. That’s when Señor Alvarez would pounce.

“Hola,” Pedro greeted cheerfully, raising the brim of his battered straw hat. Through the door and into the shop, he strolled straight past the box brimming with juicy red tomatoes without sparing them as much as a glance. Señor Alvarez’s mouth gaped open, ready to say something. He cleared his throat noisily instead.

“Ahem!”

“What’s up with you?” asked Pedro. “I already said Hola, do you want me to say Buenos Dias too? Buenos Dias.” Señor Alvarez cleared his throat again.

“Ahem!” he said, tapping a foot on the floor. “I can’t believe you haven’t noticed my tomatoes. Don’t you think they’re the biggest and ripest in town?”

“Not a doubt about it,” Pedro said.

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Well, I bet you’d like to try one.”

“How much would you like to bet?”

“Not bet like that, I mean you can have one. On the house. Gratis. For free. Just to try.”

“I wouldn’t take so much as a free lick of those tomatoes. Even if you paid me.”

Señor Alvarez stared in disbelief.

“Are you sick?” he inquired.

“No, and I don’t want to be sick,” Pedro answered.

Señor Alvarez waggled a doubting finger in his left ear. He couldn’t have heard right. It was impossible.

“Then you must’ve developed an allergy to tomatoes,” he said.

“Not that either. I love them. I eat them all the time. I had some for breakfast this morning. Though not half as good as yours look.”

“Fresh-picked at dawn. They’re home-grown.” Senor Alvarez said.

“I can see that.”

“Perfect soil. They’re organic.”

“Very organic.”

“No chemical fertilisers. Natural, organic fertiliser. Everything natural as natural can be.”

“And very rich in nutrients, I shouldn’t wonder,” Pedro threw that one in for nothing. “As well as other stuff.”

“Absolutely. They’re chock full of vitamins and minerals,” Señor Alvarez added. “Nature’s very best.” He liked this sort of talk. Eyes darting from fisherman to juicy red tomatoes, he flicked his head sideways towards the brimming box. Twice he flicked it. “Go on, take one,” he nodded in invitation, “You know you want to.” Señor Alvarez flicked again. “Go on.”

“Have you got an affliction?” Pedro asked. The grocer ignored him.

“And don’t forget the natural organic fertiliser when you’re taking that first bite,” the grocer reminded him. “Makes them really tasty.”

“You already mentioned how organic they are. A couple of times,” said Pedro.

“It can’t be mentioned enough.”

“True, very true. Neither can used toilet paper. That’s very organic in its own special way.”

“Used toilet paper? What’s used toilet paper got to do with it?”

“The used toilet paper that comes along with the natural organic fertiliser spilling out that broken drain next to old Sanchez’s garden. It’s a sewage pipe.”

“But you’re not supposed to throw toilet paper down toilets. It causes blockages. ”

“And you’re not supposed to grow vegetables in raw sewage either, but that doesn’t stop some people doing it. And it doesn’t stop other people selling them.”

“What are you saying?”

“He’s saying people shouldn’t sell farm produce contaminated with human waste,” Officer Lopez announced. His arrival unnoticed by either man, neither could know exactly how long he’d been there. That he was new to the Santa Catalina Guardia Civil was made blatantly obvious by the glistening buttons on his tunic. Emphasised by the fact he had yet to develop the deaf ear years of practice brought to veteran officers. Let alone the ability to cock one. “Surely, you must agree with that?” he said, directly into Señor Alvarez’s face. Señor Alvarez winced.

“Si,” he said. “Of course, I do.” The two men held each other’s gaze momentarily before Señor Alvarez jerked an index finger out towards the box brimming with juicy red tomatoes. “Funny you should say that,” he said. “Take these tomatoes, for instance. There’s something about them I don’t like. Something not quite right. So I’ve put them by the door to throw away. In fact I was just about to take them down to the rubbish container when you walked in.” Officer Lopez glanced down at the box brimming with juicy red tomatoes.

“They seem fine enough to me,” he said. Bending down, he picked out a prize specimen to examine. “More than fine, I’d say.” He rolled it between fingers and thumb. “They must be the biggest and ripest tomatoes in the whole of Santa Catalina, by the look of them. So red. And so juicy looking.”

“They may seem fine to you,” Señor Alvarez said, “But you don’t possess the practised eye of a professional purveyor of comestibles. Trust me, you have to look closer.” The policeman drew the tomato so near it almost touched his nose. He sniffed.

“What fragrance. Fresh off the vine as far as I can smell. I can’t see anything wrong with them.”

“Exactly my point. It’s what you can’t see I’m talking about. You’re guardia civil, you should know about that. A bit too innocent-looking, eh? A bit too good to be true, don’t you think?” Señor Alvarez leaned an eager face towards him.

“The best I’ve ever seen,” Officer Lopez said. And was just about to bite a chunk when Señor Alvarez snatched it from his hand.

“They’re not for sale,” he said, putting it back in the box.

“You must be joking. Weigh me up a couple of kilos,” Lopez said.

“Not at any price,” the grocer insisted. And with all the might of all his teeth, he forced a friendly smile. “No amount of money in the world could buy those tomatoes. And I certainly wouldn’t take any from you. Come back this afternoon, and I promise I’ll have some even better ones. I’ll keep some by, especially for you,” he said. Officer Lopez smiled back.

“I hope you’re not trying to bribe me,” he said with a wink. Señor Alvarez’s eyebrows jumped.

“Bribe you?” he asked aghast.

“You know what a bribe is, don’t you?” Pedro said.

“Of course, I know what a bribe is!” the grocer snapped.

“He says he’s familiar with bribery, officer.”

“I’m not familiar with it. Not in that way. I just know what the word means.”

“Come on,” Officer Lopez said. “I know they must be expensive. First class tomatoes always are. But I want to pay the going rate. I don’t expect any favours, and I don’t give any.” He stared at the grocer’s sweating brow. “I hope I’ve not got you wrong here, Señor Alvarez. Because I’d come down on you like a ton of bricks if I thought you were breaking the law by refusing to sell me some of your best tomatoes just because I’m a member of the guardia civil.”

“Breaking the law?” Señor Alvarez exclaimed.

“The law,” Pedro said. “You know the law is, don’t you?”

“Of course I know what the law is!” Señor Alvarez shouted. “And there’s no need to explain what breaking it is either.”

“He knows all about breaking the law, officer.”

“For chrissakes! Shut up! Will you?” Alvarez said to Pedro.

“Now, now, there’s no need to raise your voice,” Officer Lopez said. “The gentleman is only trying to help.” Then turning to Pedro: “It’s all right, señor, I can handle things on my own. Thank you, very much.”

“He’s not trying to help. Can’t you see what he’s doing? He’s mixing you up. And what things are you talking about? There are no things to handle.”

Officer Lopez took the grocer gently by the crook of his arm.

“Let me be the judge of that. As I said, Señor Alvarez, the gentleman was just trying to help. I’m quite sure you know what breaking the law is, but there’s no need to lose your temper. It can only provoke people unnecessarily. Just tell me how much your tomatoes are, weigh some out, and I think we’ll all agree no further action need be taken. The matter will be at a close, and we’ll all be on our way. I think you owe the gentleman here an apology.”

“An apology?”

“An apology,” said Pedro. “You know what an apology is, don’t you?”

“Of course I know what an apology is!” Señor Alvarez yelled at the fisherman.

“I’ve had to warn you once about that nasty temper of yours,” Officer Lopez said. “I don’t want to have to do it again.”

“But it’s him! It’s him you want to be warning and arresting and stuff. He’s saying things deliberately!”

“I never said anything about arresting anyone,” Officer Lopez said. “But I will do my duty if I have to.”

“I’m a witness to that,” Pedro said, “The officer didn’t say anything about arresting anybody. But he’ll be more than willing to do his duty if he has to.”

“For what?” Señor Alvarez asked pitifully. Pedro turned to Officer Lopez.

“For what?” he asked.

“For what?” Officer Lopez repeated slowly, and looked to the ceiling for assistance. “For causing a public disturbance,” he pronounced.

***

“He only went and dragged Alvarez down to headquarters,” Pedro told Antolin   over a beer in Juani’s bar later in the afternoon. “Banged him up in a cell for a couple of hours of to cool off. You should’ve heard the language.” The fisherman laughed. “When I saw old skinflint’s eyes peering through bars, it was all I could do to keep a straight face.”

“Well, he can’t complain,” Antolin chuckled. “He’s lucky it’s the only thing he was arrested for. If you paint your grandmother’s donkey before trying to sell it back to her, you ought to keep an eye out for rain.”

“I don’t get your drift.”

“Neither do I, I’ve been trying to puzzle that one out for the past forty years. It’s something my uncle used to say.”

Copyright © 2016 Bryan Hemming

 

Dream Daze

ENRIQUE WOKE IN A CLOUD. Not so much a cloud, more a mist. But it wasn’t a mist either. A blur would better describe it. He could hardly remember a time when he hadn’t woken into a blur. He knew he’d been dreaming, but not what he’d been dreaming. Even his dreams had become blurs. He couldn’t recall a single detail. Inma had read somewhere that interpreting dreams improved couples’ sex lives. So he’d promised to write them down the moment he woke. Yet, when it came to it, he couldn’t retain them long enough. She’d be sure to ask when she came round that evening. He’d have to invent one.

Reaching for the tobacco pouch he kept by his bedside, he rolled a cigarette. Today, he would get things done. It was time to do things. There were so many things to do. But first, he needed coffee, and a joint. Though he’d also promised Inma not to smoke dope before evening, one little spliff wouldn’t hurt. He’d be able to face his tasks all the better for it. She should be thankful that he didn’t drink. Yet women were rarely satisfied. No sooner had they ensnared their man than they wanted to mould him into someone else.

Enrique slipped from his bed and went over to the kitchen stove. He’d moved a bed downstairs for the nights Inma wasn’t staying. Apart from the extra warmth the stove provided there was the added luxury of being able to make coffee without having to tackle the stairs before he was properly awake.

Ever since she’d given up smoking dope Inma had taken to nagging at him to stop as well. Moreover, her sermons were developing a distinctly puritanical streak. There was nothing worse than the newly enlightened. Not satisfied with seeing the light herself, Inma saw it as her mission to convert Enrique. If it didn’t count as religion itself, it was almost as bad. To Enrique’s mind her dramatic Saul/Paul conversion only possessed a sinister side. Where she saw light he saw creeping shadows. More blurs. Smoking harmed nobody. He filled an enamel pot with water and lit the hob. People should mind their own business.

Feeling for the small box he kept behind a jam jar on the shelf above the sink he peered inside. A small crumb of blackish-brown. Used very sparingly there might be enough for a couple of days. If only he hadn’t used so much when he first bought it. Then he always did. He always loaded joints with the drug, thinking he would get even higher. But you couldn’t. It wasn’t like drinking; the more you smoked didn’t necessarily mean the higher you got. Sometimes, it had the opposite effect.

After carefully arranging large pinch of tobacco from his pouch along a cigarette paper lined up on the table, Enrique flicked his lighter several times to no avail. He flicked again. Guiding the fragile flame to the crumb of hash, he held gripped between thumb and forefinger, he passed it beneath a couple of times. The flame died. He cursed. Shaking the lighter, he flicked it again and again, cursing each time till a weary flame caught. That’s another thing he had to do; fill his lighter. The secret with hash was to warm it gently, teasing out a bit of smoke without allowing it to burn. Allow it to burn and you wasted it. But the piece he’d bought from an Argentinian he met in the pueblo was too oily; too sticky, it didn’t crumble. Removing the pinch of tobacco from the paper he lay it onto his palm. He would have to work the sticky mess into the tangled strands. Too much oil, that was definitely the problem; they wouldn’t mix properly. Enrique shook his head. He’d be lucky to get two smokes out of what was left, and he didn’t have money to buy more. He lay the mixture back onto the paper and took it up with both hands. After rolling, licking, and sticking, he set the completed joint on the bedside table, not wanting to light it before that first sip of coffee. It was his morning ritual; the way he always did it. Coffee and a joint; the same for years. He needed them just to get going. He licked his thumb and forefinger of the black stain the hash had left. No need to waste it. Most people didn’t know what they were doing when they bought drugs, yet all claimed to be experts. They thought the oilier the better, so the drug dealers added oil. Yet it wasn’t always the case. Different growing conditions imbued the cannabis plant with different qualities. It was a sin to interfere with its natural properties. It didn’t matter how strong the resultant resin was if it didn’t smoke properly, and that meant evenly.

The coffee pot having boiled he removed it from the hob. Man had been using drugs since time immemorial. He poured coffee into a mug followed by two heaped spoonfuls of sugar. For energy, he needed sugar for energy. Enrique sat down on his bed. He needed energy all right. He had only made a cup of coffee and rolled a joint yet already he felt tired enough to curl back beneath the sheets.

A quick sip of scalding coffee, and he lit the joint. The first toke, like warm milk soothing the delicate membranes. Inhaling deeply, he allowed the smoke to fill his lungs. Then he started to cough.

Enrique raised his feet onto the unmade bed and rested his head on the pillow. He had promised Inma he would . . . what had he promised? He had promised her that he would do something. It was the only way to stop her grumbling. He took a second, deeper deep drag. The smoke scorching his lungs he suffered a cough fit again and had to gob into the sink. Better out than in, by the look of it. It was always the same with those first few draws; his lungs waking up to a brand new day, he liked to tell his friends.

The drug began to wrap him in its warmth. It was a good feeling, like anaesthetic. He worked so much better for a smoke. Such a shame he had no work to go to, but there were plenty of other things to do. If only he could remember what they were. Thinking about it, not only did he work much better, but the world in general seemed a much better place for a smoke. All he lacked was the cash for his next deal. That was what he had to do. No sense in tearing about aimlessly all day long. You had to order your priorities first. Have some sort of plan. There were ways of getting things without money. He tried to think of all the remaining dealers with whom his credit was good. There weren’t so many; not that sprang to mind immediately. When it came to it, there were none. Not one. Dealers were so greedy wanting money all the time. It led to so many misunderstandings. They lacked flexibility. Without credit the international economy would collapse. Whole nations would disappear overnight. Extended loans were the oil of industry, they kept everything afloat. They were the one sure way of expanding markets. Even the World Bank was beginning to acknowledge that debts couldn’t go on accumulating forever; that there should be a time limit after which they were deemed to have expired. Everyone knew that, except the drug dealers. They seemed to think that they could go on demanding money until you were dead. And after.

But there was one. Pedro. There was always Pedro. Although his hash wasn’t very good, and expensive for the pathetic size of the deals, Pedro didn’t demand payment straightaway. Enrique tried to recollect if he’d paid him for the last deal. It was such a long time ago the debt must either have lapsed, or been forgotten in the way of things. Yet there was a chance Pedro might remember. The last thing Enrique needed was to be reminded of another debt; that was the sort of thing he smoked in order to forget. And Pedro possessed a violent streak.

He sighed a deep breath. Breathing, it was funny how you never forgot how to do it. Right from the very first breath you took. Without ever having to think about it, you breathed. Whether you were awake or sleeping, conscious or unconscious, in out, in out, all day long. Enrique breathed long breaths. But what would happen if you did forget? What if your mind stopped your lungs from breathing one day? All of a sudden they packed up, finally deciding it wasn’t worth the effort.

Enrique stopped breathing. Those first few seconds felt good, very good. He wondered how long he could keep it up. A few seconds more and it occurred he might not need oxygen at all. Perhaps he never had. Some strange genetic quirk, scientists discover new ones every day. He pictured the newspaper headlines. He would gain a certain celebrity. There would be breakfast TV appearances, world tours, things like that. They would sink him beneath the sea in airless chambers, and bury him alive for weeks. And there would be money, lots of money.

Then, all at once, he craved oxygen like he never craved it before. His lungs were starved of it. He would die if they didn’t get some straightaway. In a panic he gulped several short breaths in quick succession, each breath more deliberate than the one preceding it. He had to think about every single one in order to draw breath at all. In his vision of triumph he’d forgotten how to breathe without conscious thought. He told himself not to panic; everyone can breathe. The thing to do was get back to the stage where he didn’t have to think about the process. But then he might stop breathing altogether. It was a crisis. He’d lost the ability to breathe naturally. He sniffed to check that his nose was working. It was. Thank God for that! He laughed at his stupidity. At least he had a back-up. It was like an emergency generator kicking into action. With that one act he could almost breathe normally again. But trying to stop his mind thinking about breathing altogether only meant he thought about it even more. The word breathe interrupted all other thoughts. It stood impressed on his mind in large letters.

Enrique was still steeling his mind against thinking about breathing when his nose detected a nasty smell. He glanced around the room to see where it might be coming from. Beneath the kitchen sink a bin was overflowing. It wanted emptying. The sink itself stood piled with greasy pots and pans. They wanted washing. Discarded clothes lay strewn on furniture and floor. They wanted tidying. But all that could wait until tomorrow. There were more important issues at hand. If only he could remember what they were. He would have to see Pedro; that was certain. Even if he didn’t lay any dope on him there was always the chance of a puff or two. The thought of being without hashish was a worry to him. He could live without it, of course, that wasn’t the problem. After all, it wasn’t as if he was addicted to the stuff. You couldn’t get addicted to cannabis the same way you could to heroin and alcohol. Nevertheless, it was nice to know that you had some to wake up to each morning. And to help you sleep at night.

Pedro spent his nights floating around the bars of Santa Catalina selling underweight deals to those who didn’t know any better. He was rarely in bed before dawn, not rising until late afternoon. Enrique would have to wait until then. Why were dealers always so lazy? They never appeared to give a thought to the needs of their customers.

To recurring visions of Pedro, Enrique felt a rush of fear. His entire body tingled with it. What if he did owe Pedro money? Only that he’d once set about a reluctant debtor with a crowbar, that was all. “From time to time it pays to advertise you’re not running a charity,” Pedro had snarled at his critics, “The occasional broken leg hobbling round the pueblo is good publicity.” Pity it was the wrong man. Pedro had shrugged off the error claiming that it was a genuine case of mistaken identity, and there had been no malice intended on his part. Whatever, it encouraged the others.

Enrique tried to remember whether he’d paid the last time he’d scored from Pedro, but couldn’t. As far as he knew, they hadn’t seen each other in weeks. And then he seemed to recall seeing him only a few nights before. He tried to think what had happened. Pedro had been loitering outside a bar. He was handing over a little wrap to a German tourist. He hadn’t mentioned anything about money on that occasion. They’d nodded the silent recognition of co-conspirators. But Pedro’s memory was as erratic as Enrique’s: that he didn’t remember then didn’t mean that he wouldn’t remember now. Of course, chances were that he didn’t owe Pedro anything. If only Enrique could remember. It was best to think of something else. Perhaps he should think of work. But how could he think of work at a time like this? He didn’t have time for work.

Suddenly, he had a bright idea: why not work for Pedro? It was brilliant. It would solve everything. Now the tourist season had started there were far too many places for Pedro to be in all at once. To maximise business he would need someone to help. Enrique was his man. It made sense. He knew the drugs scene inside out. He’d been smoking hash since he was twelve. Even Pedro would see it made sense. Once they’d sorted out the issue of any outstanding debt Enrique could begin selling for him on a regular basis. In no time at all he’d be into profit. There were fringe benefits for both parties; Pedro would have someone he could trust, and Enrique would always have something to smoke. Dealers never ran out; they always kept a secret stash for their personal use. Everybody would be happy. As soon as Pedro realised what a good worker he was he would ask him to go into business as a partner. There was a tempting thought.

Yet the more he considered it, the less the prospect appealed. Just how much was Pedro prepared to put on the table? Without adequate reward it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Enrique had debts and commitments to take into consideration. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys. If that’s what Pedro wanted. He’d have to speak to him. Besides, did he really want Pedro as a partner? No point in rushing into things. He’d have to mull it over. First off, he’d say that it might take a couple of weeks to make a final decision. If Pedro didn’t like it, he could stuff it. After all, he wasn’t the only dealer in town. No need to jump into partnership with any fly by night. Anyhow, after all was said and done, Pedro was small fry. Enrique was the man to put him straight on that. He’d emphasise just how small a fry he was by holding out a finger and thumb with the tiniest of spaces between. He’d explain how Pedro operated at the bottom of the heap, while the big profits were at the top. You had to get organised nowadays; the days of the street corner pusher were fast drawing to a close. Fierce competition was seeing to that. People bought drugs like they bought anything else: they wanted quality and dependability at a reasonable price. You had to streamline and cut costs to a minimum just in order to survive. Plus Pedro didn’t work hard enough. Enrique would have to mention that. He didn’t put the hours in. In the final analysis, Enrique wanted something better than Pedro was able to offer.

The best thing with dope was to grow your own. It was easy. All the ingredients were on your doorstep in Santa Catalina. The climate was perfect: plenty of sunshine all year round. There was hardly a month you couldn’t grow it. The soil was rich in nutrients. Beyond the pueblo there were pine trees in  almost every direction. Dense forests where nobody ventured save ignorant goatherds and their goats. All you had to do was find a clearing. You planted the seeds, sat back, and watched them grow. If Pedro was too stupid to realise how it was done that was his lookout. Enrique would lay his hands on the finest skunk seeds, all the way from Holland. In no time at all he would have the best grass in town. Word would soon get round. It wouldn’t take long to save enough money from the marijuana to invest in a kilo or two of the finest Ketama from Morocco. People were prepared to pay the earth for the genuine stuff. It was like gold dust. If he confined himself to supplying only the richest clients he wouldn’t have to work so hard. He wouldn’t allow them to buy piddling little bits; they would need to buy thirty of forty grammes at a time to make it worth his while. A coded message to his phone would alert him. He could deliver by motorbike. He would need a a motorbike. And a phone.

Back to Pedro. He might have to begin by working for him after all. Enrique tried to calculate how much time it might take him to be able to afford a mobile phone and a motorbike. If he worked for Pedro. There were so many unknown factors to consider. Those aside, however long was far too long, so he gave up. Even if he could he cream a couple of euros from the top of each deal it would still take years. Better to cut Pedro out of things altogether. The man was too greedy. Far too greedy. He wanted all the profits for himself. How could anyone be expected to survive on the pittance he paid? He’d never be able to start up on his own working for such a slavedriver. Enrique began to feel hatred towards Pedro. If he begged him on bended knee he wouldn’t work for him. He would set up on his own straightaway in competition with Pedro. That would be favourite. For that he would need capital. He racked his brain, always coming back to the same solution.

Out of all the people he knew there was only one who possessed the necessary cash. Inma had a savings account at the bank. He could borrow money from her. If she knew he was going to use it set up in business she couldn’t possibly refuse. Wasn’t she constantly on at him to do something? He would be doing her a favour into the bargain. It was the answer to all their problems. Yet it raised a problem of its own at the same time. It could prove tricky telling her what sort of business it was. The best path to take would be to keep things a bit vague at first. Make it into a bit of a surprise; a mystery. Inma liked mysteries. Once she knew how much money he was making he could tell her. She’d realise what a good idea it was and praise him for his cleverness. He’d take her on holiday to Rio de Janeiro. She’d always wanted to go there. They’d stay in the swankiest hotels. Without so much as a word, he’d book first class airline seats, then toss the tickets onto her bed, casually. That would be a good time to tell her.

Enrique felt very pleased with himself. Time to celebrate with another joint. Rising up from his bed he took his little box from the shelf. Not much left. He would have to see Pedro that afternoon. Maybe he would start off working for him, after all. But what if he owed him money? Why was there some much greed in the world? All people thought about was money. It was a good thing that he had hashish to keep his mind off things. He yawned. His head so full of things he had to do he needed a nap. Best to make a fresh start next morning when his brain was clear.

Copyright © 2015 Bryan Hemming