Friday, March 18, 2016

Attorney of the Year

I assume most writers have folders (even filing cabinets) of unfinished projects, half-developed ideas, and unpublished pieces.  Today I present just such a story.   Attorney of the Year was written in the last century, the late 1980s or early 1990s, but it's never been published.  In fact, I've never offered it for publication to any outlet.  I don't think stories like this are written now, they've apparently fallen out of fashion.  The story does have a retro feel, for sure. I like the premise but I guess I couldn't decide where or when to try to get it out to the public. Thus, today is its birth, so to speak.


©Manuel Ramos, all rights reserved.

He was drunk, and why not? This was his night to howl, to let it all out. Attorney of the Year.  ¡Orale! The Chicano Attorney of the Year, man. The guy selected by the Hispanic Bar Association as the outstanding legal eagle. The Association gave him a plaque, a dinner, a toda madre, and allowed him to ramble on for half an hour about the law, justice, helping raza, the great friends and associates he’d made over the years, and how grateful he was for the honor. He almost choked when he looked at the shiny faces of the guests in their tuxedos, drinking scotch or champagne, eating chicken and peas. He singled out Judge Martínez for his support, his partner Abel for his business wisdom, and his wife Sharon for standing by his side through law school and the early lean years.

Everyone was crocked -- the Chicanos' chance to flaunt their success and let everyone know that they had made it. Wasn't this what the commotion had been about, what la revolución had meant?

After the party, Sharon drove him home in silence. She wasn't impressed with his award just as she hadn't been impressed with anything he’d done in recent years. Once he'd asked her why she stayed. She answered with a look of pity, glanced around their house, then left him standing in the middle of the room. He never asked again.

There wasn't anyone in the house, except for their dog, Carnal, the Chow. Sharon went to bed but the attorney grabbed a bottle from his bar and poured a drink. He sat on the couch and surveyed his home.

"Not bad, Pablito, not too damn bad." The words didn't exactly match his thoughts but in his alcohol-induced trance it didn't matter. His drunken conversations with himself were one of the few ways he had of organizing his priorities and assessing his satisfaction.

 "Paul A. Leyba, attorney at law. The Chicano Attorney of the Year! ¡Ajua!"

The place was nice, very nice. Oriental rugs covered large areas of the glossy, wooden floors. Best sellers and leather-bound classics stocked dark bookcases. Shelves of vinyl music surrounded a massive sound system. Sharon's Chinese art things were displayed in glass cabinets in the corners of the huge rooms. And it was safe. The security patrol was reliable but his three thousand dollar alarm system guaranteed immunity for his wife and property from the ravages of the preying hordes.

"Pablito, you did it, man, you did it."

He twisted the dial and manipulated the combination on the wall safe, extracted a porcelain jar and set it on the coffee table. Raised images of Aztec warriors and maidens offering gifts to the gods decorated the jar. He lifted the lid and took out a short, thin glass tube and a small plastic bag half-filled with white powder. He snorted the powder through the tube up into his nose. He sat back and laughed.

"This has to be a sin. I haven't felt this good since Helen and I got together at the reunion. Felt great that night. Oh, man! What a rush! Need some fresh air."

He cradled the jar in his arms and lurched into his backyard. His lawn spread out before him, a gray expanse that shimmered in the moonlight.

"A lake," he mumbled. "Lake Texcoco. Ha! In my back yard. Lake of the Aztecs. A few pyramids and I'll be set."

He collapsed into one of the wrought iron chairs that rested under his patio cover.

"I screwed myself -- bad. Very bad."

He assumed he would pass out. He heard the wind come in off the lake, blow across the reedy shore and echo through the temple of Tenochtitlan. The morning sun shimmered at the horizon.  People would soon rise and hustle through the stone-covered paths. There was corn to irrigate, and fruits and vegetables that had to be taken to the market at Tlaltelolco. He knew he would soon see them scurrying about, brown ants that made the great city work.

"Whoa. What the hell?"

Pablo rubbed his face. He tried to focus on the lawn. He wanted to see his chain link fence, the barbecue pit. Their images floated into view but he couldn't hold them. Instead, the grand civilization of the Aztecs spread before him. He sat on a chair made from maguey. Sculptures of quacamayas and the goddess Coatlicue stared at him from the short stone wall that surrounded his stone house. The city appeared as a beautiful postcard, a three dimensional map illuminated by torches and campfires.

"God. Whatever was in that blow must have been psychedelic. This is weird, even for me. I've got to talk myself down."

He concentrated on facts. He knew he was a man in the United States of America. A lawyer, the Attorney of  the Year. He owned an expensive three story house, lived with a beautiful but bitchy wife, and kept a valuable registered animal for a pet. He worked long hours to get and keep his possessions. He was entitled to it. He was an American success story.

He repeated the facts to himself, the facts he could remember, but concentration was difficult. While his paralyzed brain struggled to produce the images of what was important in his life, he stared at massive buildings in the misty background, the Teocalli, and beyond that the volcanoes Ixtac­cihuatl and Popacatepetl. He wore feathers and coarse, dyed cloth of a material he didn't recognize. He took a drink but instead of scotch he tasted the milky liquor of pulque.

He thought he should go to bed, sleep it off. He fell off his chair and down to his knees. He struggled to stand but his legs wouldn't move.

He heard a noise. He jerked his head in the direction of the sound. He saw only darkness.

Music from a gourd and a flute floated to him on the wind. A drum beat vibrated through the dawn. A light washed over him, blinding him. He shut his eyes and the light turned the darkness beneath his eyelids to a dull red. The breeze hardened and its tempo increased until wind-whipped sand stung his face. In seconds the wind blew with a gale force, bending him at the waist. He was immobilized, frozen in a position of obsequiousness, on his knees.

Silence. The wind stopped. The music was gone. The light dimmed. He opened his eyes and for an instant he saw his twentieth-century backyard, but then, like a cloud's shadow moving across the land, Tenochtitlan returned. He crouched on a hill over the city. He stared at the majesty and immensity of the city of the Aztecs. Its beauty overwhelmed him with awe, and fear.

A hand grabbed his shoulder.

"Pablo, so nice to see you brother."

The slurred voice dropped words half-said. The short, dark Indian had a strange accent and he moved like a drunk. He wore a wild, colorful headdress and a rabbit-fur robe lined with golden threads. Bottles of pulque clanked together along the rope that encircled his waist. Pablo stared, speechless. The Indian extended his hand.

"Ometochtli, you know, Aztec god. Glad to meet you." No response from Pablo. "You must have seen my picture when you played turista in Tenoch ..., uh, I mean, Mexico City. Need a refill?"

Pablo rapidly shook his head. He wanted to rid himself of the nightmare. He looked for his house, the skyline of the city he'd grown up in, the lawn he mowed every summer Sunday morning. But he saw only the Indian against the background of ancient Mexico.

"Go with it, bro. This is real, as real as it gets. Have a drink. Relax. Got any cards?"

Pablo took the offered bottle and gulped down a drink. Smooth, delicious. The liquid rolled around his tongue like honey, then flowed into his system. He could almost see it work its way into his brain.

The Indian smiled. "Good stuff, no?"

Pablo nodded.

He said, finally, "What the hell? What is this? A joke?"

He remembered the Association dinner.

 "Yeah, that must be it. Those assholes and their crazy sense of humor. This is their idea, their way of making the night memorable. Pretty good, Abel, wherever you are."

 Pablo looked around again, searching for his partner, expecting him to jump from the bushes, laughing like an idiot. What a great story this will make at the club. Pablo hoped that was the answer.

"Wait until I get my hands on Abel."

"This ain't no joke, brother. That drink wasn't funny, was it? Feel this, man, this is real."

The Indian drew an obsidian knife from his rope belt and made a quick slicing motion across Pablo's arm. A thin red line appeared and blood flowed from the cut.

"Ow! Hey you sonofabitch."

Pablo jerked his arm to his mouth and sucked at the stinging wound. The blood tasted real. The pain felt real.

"Why in the hell did you do that?"

"Just a lesson, brother. I'm not here for no joke. I'm a god, I got important things to do. I can cause great harm if you mess with me, or I can bless you with gifts. Try to remember that."

"Sure, man, sure. What did you say your name was, Ome... whatli?"

"Ometochtli, god of drunkenness and gambling."

Pablo laughed, and regretted it immediately when he saw the flash of anger in the Indian's eyes.

"Hey, it's good.  God of pulque and poker. No problem, whatever you say."

In spite of his fear, a note of derision escaped with his words. The Indian jabbed his knife at Pablo's neck and held it there while he considered what he should do with the disrespectful Chicano.

Pablo tried to calm him. "No offense. I'd be the last one to make fun of anyone's religion. Hell, in my church drinking wine is a sacrament, part of the mass. Pulque, wine, what's the difference when you really think about it?"

Ometochtli returned the knife to its sheath. "I'm getting sidetracked. I brought you here to talk about what you've been up to lately. Some of us think you've been screwing up and since I seem to be the only one you have anything in common with anymore, I got picked."

"What are you talking about? Picked by who, for what? This must be a dream. What's happening?"

The Indian touched his knife. "Do I have to show you again that this is for real?"

"No, man, no. Okay. This is real. I get it, no dream, no joke." Pablo pressed the cut on his arm. "But who in the hell sent you? For what?"

"People that once were important in your life. Maybe you didn't even know it. Guys like me. And Zapata. Aztecs and revolutionaries were part of your spirit. No more. We wonder what happened."

"You mean that rabble-rousing stuff, that political movement thing. That's over.  These are new times, new ways for Chicanos to make it. Can't fight a revolution forever, got to fit in sometime."

Pablo thought the Indian's hand was still too close to the knife.

"There's different ways to fight, that's for sure. Different ways to make changes. You yourself did that, when you were a lawyer for those guys that couldn't pay lawyer fees."

"You mean when I worked in the public defender's office?"

"Whatever you call it. That's not really my line. There's a rag-tag lawyer in our group. Don't even know his name. He spent his life representing bums and whores, the ones that couldn't pay until he was lynched for helping somebody who wasn't the right color, or didn't speak the right language, something like that. Years before you were even born, brother. But he worries about you, wants to know what happened."

Pablo was dizzy. The images in the background weaved in and out of his consciousness. The Indian faded from view, and Pablo had trouble hearing his words. "What's that got to do with me?"

Ometochtli returned. "You don't get it, do you? That lawyer was the kind of person you once wanted to be, even if that idea didn't last very long with you."

"Yeah, well I did my time. They paid us peanuts, worked us until we had heart attacks or dropped from exhaustion. Burned me out and now I do all right, no complaints."

The Indian shook his head. "That's why I'm here. You're not doing all right. Your grand­mother said you wouldn't buy it, that you were the most stubborn, and in many ways the slowest."

"My grandmother? Jesusita? Where, when? Let me talk to her, I haven't seen her since, since ..."

"Right. Since you left for college. She blessed you for the trip, kept a candle burning for you all those months. You never took the time to visit her, you almost didn't make it to the funeral."

"I didn't know about any candle."

"You wouldn't have been much without her, you know. She told your mother that you had to go to school, there was something in you that had to be developed, even if you didn't always catch on as soon as your brothers or sisters. She made your mother save for you and she took the money from her each week and put it away. She put in her own, too. Picked up books at the segunda for you, stirred the interest in reading you once had. She's not sure it was worth it, brother."

The city came to life. Priests and warriors awakened while their slaves prepared the morning meal. The mud huts of farmers and war captives showed signs of renewal as the people readied themselves for the new day.

The Indian said, "Well, it's time for me to get back to work. These people love their pulque, and patolli. ¡Ay! What a game! They'll bet anything once they get into it. Gold, slaves, wives. Great game."

"But what did you want? Why? My grandmother?" The thoughts were in his head but the words would not come out.

The Indian faded into fog. Pablo struggled to hear the final words of the Aztec god.

"It's true, brother. Changes happen, have to happen. We can't do it for you. Priorities, man. Respect. Pride."

The light returned, the storm centered on Pablo and the Indian disappeared. The wind tossed Pablo and rolled him on the earth, then hurled him through space. He fell through the void. His screams echoed across the centuries.


He sprawled on his lawn in drunken disarray, naked. Sharon and two policemen stood over him, shaking their heads.

Sharon said, "I don't know what happened. After we came home, I went to bed. Early this morning I heard the screaming and shouting. I thought it was a party next door, then all that music and the wind, I didn't know what to think. When you woke me I didn't know where he was. I'm as surprised as you."

One of the policemen cleared his throat and tried to sound professional. "Well, Mrs. Leyba, the complaints from the neighbors about the noise are what brought us out here. But now."

He looked in the direction of the patio. A mound of white powder overflowed on the concrete floor, covering a small porcelain jar.

"There's too much for that jar to hold. He's got more than he could use by himself in a year.  It looks like he was heavy into selling that stuff. "

Sharon pushed the hair out of her face.

"I don't know anything about that. This is his mess, he'll have to deal with it. This is the end for us, I can tell you that. The end of his practice. He has no respect, not for me, for his business, nothing. No respect. I hope he gets what he deserves."


Speaking of short stories -- I just received the great news that my short-story collection, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, is a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in the short story category.  According to Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book, "finalists will be recognized and winners will be announced at the Colorado Book Awards celebration later this spring." I will also be invited to participate in the Colorado Book Award Finalist Reading Series in April and May at the BookBar (4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO).  This recognition of Pancho is very much appreciated and I eagerly look forward to reading at the BookBar.  Stay in touch for details.



Anonymous said...

Not passé. Still apt. Enjoyable while disturbing. Somebody...


I like it. Edges into my territory.

Unknown said...

Feel privileged to be at the birth of your story, Manuel. You did a great job of weaving the historical Aztec setting with the present. Totally engaging from start to finish. Thanks for sharing it.

Manuel Ramos said...

Thanks, Anonymous, Ernest, and Wayne. Good to know that the old story still has some life. Glad you liked it.

Unknown said...

de aquellita