By Paul Evans
Romario Jimenez pushed open the doors, allowing the morning sun to penetrate the nightclub’s gloomy interior. The absence of the music, lights and revelry that had brought life to the building not four hours previously was always slightly disconcerting. Like the clientele, the club was awaking without its makeup.
Opening of the rear loading doors provided a sudden transit route for virgin air; the stagnant gas of breath, sweat, stale perfume and cigarette smoke was purged into the heavens. Jimenez propped the door open with a fire extinguisher and paused to let the sun caress his face. Havana was stirring from its slumber, roused to the rising murmur of traffic and pealing gull laughter.
Duty beckoned. Tables had sprouted dirty glasses and mountainous ashtrays overnight. The tired carpet was similarly tarnished. The young man set to work removing the stain of humanity. His first customer would arrive at ten o’clock; just as she had since before he was born. Standing on a chair he switched on the television to watch the news and commenced his labour. Blue flashing lights periodically illuminated the club as the night’s news was conveyed.
* * * *
“Buenos diás Lola.”
“Buenos diás Romario.”
“Si por favour.”
With graceful dignity the lady entered the club. Her posture was starting to yield to the demands of time, compressing a once straight back. Colour had drained from her hair and eyes like failing beacons of vitality. The feathers in her hair seem to have faded in sympathy; once a vibrant yellow, they now matched the cloying pigment of nicotine on her teeth and fingers. The fine dress that once accentuated a desirable body now hung from her skin-adorned skeleton.
Navigating a path of routine, she sat at her small round table in the corner and – head held high – checked her lipstick while the boy poured her coffee. Lola had seen so many of his kind come and go over the years. He had to look after her: she was the club’s star attraction after all.
Jimenez crossed the empty floor from the bar and placed the drink on her table with a smile.
“Muchas gracias,” she uttered, before enquiring “Dónde es Tony?”
The barman had learned not to answer this question. He squeezed her hand affectionately and turned to resume his duties. Jimenez jumped as he registered the appearance of a newcomer at the bar. At this time of day, an individual entering the quiet club was usually immediately noticeable. He regarded a short, fair-haired man in a loose fitting casual suit who appeared to be observing them intently. Clearly not a local. He nodded a greeting.
* * * *
The man was travelling under the alias of Bruce Feldman. Ergo he was Bruce Feldman: textile merchant. Bruce had swept the room for potential exits and blind spots as he entered; everything matched what he had gleaned from his external reconnaissance. His car was parked near the unobstructed back door. Apart from the old woman there was no one else in the building except the bar hand who now approached.
“Hola. Café por favour.” Bruce swept past Jimenez towards Lola. Bruce’s ever-darting eyes caught the television where policia were pictured outside the walls of a large house. The footage cut back to a newsreader. He checked his watch and addressed the woman.
“Oiga por favour. Buenos diás. Lola?”
The woman nodded, frowning.
He gestured towards the chair next to Lola (which offered line of sight to both entrances).
“Puedo..?” he requested.
Lolo nodded again. Bruce sat and offered her his warmest smile and a cigarette.
“Habla ingles?” he enquired.
“Yes. A little,” She responded. Accepting the pristine paper stick with sinewy fingers and returning his smile.
“I’ve heard of you,” he began abruptly, lighting her cigarette.
She visibly grew in stature.
“Why thank you my darling,” she responded “Have you seen my show?”
“I … no, I haven’t.”
“I perform here every night.”
“No you don’t,” Bruce interjected soothingly. “You haven’t performed for over forty years.”
Lola’s smile froze.
“I’ve heard your story countless times: your lover Tony was killed in this very club; shot dead by a man called Rico.”
Lola’s face dropped. She shook her head slowly.
“Yes Lola. Rico ruined your life. Not only did he get away with it, he has been living a life of luxury while you have lived a lie.”
Tears erupted from Lola’s eyes.
“I don’t want to remember,” she croaked. “It was too long ago.”
The cigarette fell into the ashtray.
Bruce took her hands and locked eyes with her’s. He perceived the young woman she once was. She represented the mother he no longer knew, the wife he should have married and the daughter who was never born: an alternative life personified.
“Lola. You must remember … because … I’ve made it all better.”
The woman regarded him with moist, bloodshot eyes.
“Yes,” he replied tenderly. “Lola. I’ve done some … bad things in my life, and I’m ready to retire … with a clear conscience. My last job was pro bono … for you.”
Lola’s eyes widened in comprehension.
“You haven’t … killed him?” she whispered.
“No. Tony wasn’t the victim. He’s dead. You were the victim Lola. Rico took everything from you. So I’ve taken everything from him.”
The television screen cut to footage of three small covered bodies being stretchered from the large house.