Free Gringos by Charles Portis

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Authors: Charles Portis
in the eddy. They were fine wide planks, newly cut, unplaned, about twelve feet long, soaked and heavy. Gail and Denise helped me drag them up the bank and manhandle them into the truck. When I was going with Beth, she said it was awkward introducing me to her friends as a scavenger. I called this foraging. We had other differences.
    How were they fixed, these two girls? Poor graduate students? Was there family money? Neither of them had ever seen a CB radio before. Did that place them socially? Or just regionally? Assuming them to be at least temporarily short, I recommended the Posada Fausto. It was cheap but clean, I told them, certainly no flophouse, and handy to everything. Calle 55 was dark when we arrived. There was a feeble yellow light in the hotel doorway. Fausto’s twenty-watt bulb put them off a little. They were expecting a place that offered two complimentary margaritas on check-in.
    Denise said, “This is where you live?”
    â€œI keep a room here for when I’m in town, yes. It’s all right after you get inside. The rooms are okay. They have high ceilings and ten-speed ceiling fans. You don’t need air-conditioning. The doorknobs are porcelain with many hairline cracks. The towels are rough-dried in the sun. Very stiff and invigorating after a bath.” I caught myself overselling the place, making it out to be a charming little hotel. It wasn’t that but it was all right.
    Gail said, “Is that it, next to the shoe place? It doesn’t even look like it’s open.” That was the first peep I had heard out of her for many miles.
    What they wanted to do was ride around town some more, make a hotel inspection tour, find a properly lighted one that accepted credit cards but was at the same time reasonably priced, with maybe a swimming pool and a newsstand. This was why I no longer worked with other people—Refugio, Eli, Doc, whoever. The great nuisance of having a debate every hour or so and taking a vote on the next move.
    I took them out to the Holiday Inn and dropped them. Then I made a jog over the Calle 61 to deliver Rudy’s package. He and Louise had rooms at a place called Casitas Lola. I found her working away, typing up taped dictation from Rudy. What a job. The machine ran a little fast, and he sounded like a castrato. “Just five more to do and I’m caught up,” she said. My gift of cacao beans delighted her. It was Christmas again.
    â€œDid you see Rudy at Tumbalá?”
    â€œI’m not supposed to say. You’ll have to read his letter. It’s written in lemon juice.”
    â€œYou think you’re oh so funny. Well, there’s nothing funny about our security methods. There are people who would pay thousands of dollars just to get a peek at this material. You never have grasped the importance of our work and you never will. Did you know I was a late child?”
    â€œNo, I didn’t.”
    â€œMy mother was forty-three years old when I was born. There are so many interesting things you don’t know about me. I may tell you some of those things later. I may not. It all depends. I haven’t decided yet. Whether to confide in a vandal.”
    It was a shadowy room with a raftered ceiling, very low, and a single old-fashioned floor lamp with a parchment shade, a good room in which to carry on some quiet mad enterprise. Louise worked at a long table in the pool of light. She sat erect before her typewriter, the perfect secretary, in fashion eyewear, white blouse and floppy red bow tie. She had blue eyes set far back in her head, so that they appeared to be dark eyes. Her blond ringlets were trimmed short and sort of tossed about. Next door I could hear a child singing, in English. The new people in the next casita, a family from New Jersey. They had moved down here to escape the blast from the coining nuclear war.
    â€œDo you mind very much being called a vandal?”
    â€œNo, go ahead.”
    â€œI mean

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