The first thing I felt was a massive throbbing lump on the left side of my face, and my hand immediately flew up to touch the thing. Pain like lightning bolts shot out from the lump as soon as my fingertips brushed it lightly, and I cried out. The pain also caused me to open my eyes, and when I turned my head I was surprised to see that I was in the inside of a jail cell. There was a policeman sitting behind a desk, shuffling papers while the computer beside him had the words POLICIA FEDERAL bouncing around on the edges of the black screen.
The policeman heard my cry of pain, and he lifted his head up from his paperwork to look at me. "Ah, you're finally awake," he said as he stood up. "I apologize for the bruise on your face. That's Francisco's fault, but also in a way yours. If you weren't so unruly and kept trying to resist arrest last night then all this could have been avoided. Shit, I almost thought he'd killed you when your head snapped back from the hit. You really need to put some meat on your bones, man. I keep fearing you're going to snap an arm or a leg just by bumping into the walls."
"Ay, you will not believe how many times I've heard people tell me that," I muttered as I sat up on the bench that had served as my bed during my incarceration. I looked down and saw that I was still wearing my mariachi costume. My coat was open, revealing the white undershirt beneath the brownish-pink coat. Through the thin cloth I could see my ribs expanding and contracting to the rhythm of my lungs. Once again I tried to touch the bruise on my face, and once again the pain stopped me from exploring it further. Although I could imagine how I must look like to the policeman: a thin, bony man with a rectangular face that right now had an onion glued to it.
It was then that I noticed that I was alone in the cell. As in there was literally no one else in there with whom I had shared the space. I mean, it was possible that I had shared the cell with someone else during the time that I was unconscious from the policeman's punch and that they had been freed sometime in the morning before I woke up, but I thought that it was highly unlikely. "Señor," I called out. "Señor!"
"What is it now, man?" the policeman on duty asked.
"You didn't happen to see another man with me when you, er, arrested me, did you?" I asked. "Big guy. Taller than me by half a head, chin like Jay Leno's, broad shoulders, barrel chest, but looks like he missed leg day. Seen him, sir?"
"I'm afraid not, señor," the policeman shook his head. "I wasn't the officer who arrested you. But I am familiar with your case report, and unless I am mistaken, a person matching the description you gave me claims to be the person who reported you in for unruliness."
"What? Are you serious?" I asked. Then I sighed and muttered, "Ay, Ernesto, you culero. You've finally gone and seized your moment, haven't you?"
Now comes the point in the story where I say that I should have seen it coming. And unlike many other stories, this time it's true. I did see Ernesto's betrayal coming. Not from a mile away, but I could sense that it was in the offing. Ernesto and I, we were friends for as long as I could remember. In fact, he was the first friend that I had ever made, and I remember the two of us as we ran down the old cobblestone streets of Santa Cecilia, our hometown, scaring off the stray cats and dogs and making a ruckus that woke up everyone from their siestas. The fact that we were both lovers of music just made the brotherhood between us run deeper, and we were always talking about how we were going to become the biggest duo Mexico has ever produced. But then Ernesto got a taste of what it was like to be in the limelight, and he realized in his heart of hearts that maybe he didn't really want to share it with anyone else. Si, he didn't say anything about it to me, but I could feel it. I could see it in his eyes, the green-eyed monster lurking behind the face of my friend. He had invited me for some drinks last night, supposedly to celebrate the fact that we had just landed a gig to serve as frontmen for some concert or another. The mistake I made was letting Ernesto buy me drink after drink while merely sipped at his own beer. And while I wouldn't say that I couldn't handle my alcohol well, I still have no memory of what in the world happened after what was either the eighth or the tenth bottle. See, I can't even remember how many beers I've drunk before I woke up in this cell.
I sighed and shook my head, and then I looked up to the policeman and asked, "Can I use that one phone call now, señor?" I asked. "Or am I going to have to wait to get out of here before I can call somebody?"
"I'm sorry, señor, but you have it right the first time," the policeman replied. "You're going to have to wait for your release before you can phone your lawyer again."
"It's not really my lawyer I want to call, but okay," I nodded. "Then how long am I going to have to stay here?"
"Oh, about…" The policeman looked at his wristwatch. "…five seconds." He then stood up, took a keyring hanging from his belt, and inserted a key into the lock of my cell. He looked at his watch once again and then, as it ticked, he unlocked the cell and swung open the door made of metal bars. "Welcome back to the free world, señor," he said with a smile. "I hope you've learned from your experience and will not be unruly and resist arrest ever again."
"Oh, yes, sir, I can assure you that I've learned a lot from my brief time behind bars," I said with a smile of my own.
"Come, follow me," he said, and I did as he said and walked behind him towards another set of doors before stopping in front of a desk that looked very similar to the one that he had just left. The policeman sitting behind his counter could have been the twin brother of the policeman I was following. "Sargento Fernandez here to release Prisoner 300920," the officer I had been following said.
"Prisoner 300920," the other policeman muttered, scrolling through the records on the computer before finding the one pertaining to me. I don't know why, but being referred to as a prisoner with only a number to identify me felt… wrong. It was like I was being turned into a nobody. And it wasn't like I was a career criminal; I'd just been thrown into the slammer to dry out and sleep my hangover away. Anyway, the policeman in charge of releasing typed in a few commands, comments, or codes or whatever into the computer and then hit ENTER. "Prisoner 300920 has been released," he said.
"Follow me again, señor," Sargento Fernandez, the first policeman, said to me. "Now it's time to go through processing."
We walked across the room towards a third desk that stood in front of a room filled with cubbyholes and other such compartments. This time, the policeman standing behind this desk could have been my twin brother, only he had a thicker head of hair and a smooth face, unblemished by any signs of facial hair. "Prisoner 300920 to go through release processing," Sargento Fernandez announced.
This policeman accessed the computer records to make sure that I had indeed been released, and then he turned to me and said, "If you will wait a moment, señor, I will get your belongings." He then stood up and walked into the room with the cubbyholes, and after a few moments of searching he pulled out a duffel bag and a guitar case from a cubbyhole and a cabinet-like space respectively. He placed the duffel bag and the guitar case on top of his desk, and then he bent down, opened a drawer, and retrieved a brown leather wallet from inside. "Your belongings, Señor Rivera," he said, placing the wallet on top of the duffel bag.
I took the wallet and opened it. The first thing I saw was the driver's license, and my face stared back at me from behind the plastic lining of the wallet pocket where I had put it. The driver's license had been issued to Hector Rivera Vazconcelos of Santa Cecilia, State of Oaxaca. The second thing I saw was the photograph of my family, the one that I looked at every day and every night to remind myself why I had decided to go with Ernesto and try our luck in Mexico City. I was standing to the right, trying to look as dignified as I could in my suit, a hand-me-down from my father. My wife Imelda was seated and wearing that purple dress that she always wore for almost any occasion, although I now couldn't remember why she was scowling at the camera like she was (although if memory serves, it probably has something to do with me or a decision I've made; God knows 'Melda wore that exact same expression when I told her that 'Nesto and I were going to Mexico City). And in between us was our beloved daughter Coco. It still brings me both happiness and tears whenever I remember the moment when I first held little Coco in my arms, and every time I remember the look on her face when I told her that I had to go away to earn a living to support us, my heart breaks just that little bit more. If only Imelda and I hadn't done as teenagers do then maybe we both wouldn't have had to work as hard as we were doing just to support ourselves and our family. On the other hand, we both wouldn't have had Coco in our lives, and that was a thought that I could never bear to entertain.
I examined the inside of the wallet further and saw that the money inside was still in there, every bill of every denomination that I remember still present inside. You could never be sure with la policia. Sometimes you might encounter the good and honest cops, and sometimes you might encounter corrupt pigs who would like nothing more than to squeeze dry the next hapless citizen they meet.
I put the wallet into the pocket of my mariachi pants and then reached for the duffel bag. I unzipped the bag and dug through the changes of clothing and toiletry kit that I had packed to search for my songbook. On it were written the lyrics and sometimes even the notes and sheet music for the songs that I had written for Ernesto to sing. Well, most of them. Some of them I had written down for posterity, and because I knew that I was a forgetful airhead who would quickly lose all of these ideas for songs and such in my head if I didn't write them down somewhere. The songbook wasn't easy to miss; it was a square notebook the size of a small bathroom wall tile with a cardboard cover wrapped in blue fake leather. But no matter how hard I looked, the songbook was nowhere to be found.
"Is something wrong, señor? Is something missing?" the policeman in charge of belongings asked.
"No, no, it's all right. It's fine," I shook my head. I then reached deep inside the duffel bag and began patting the bottom. I felt a small rectangular bump and smiled. At least he hadn't found that. I zipped closed the duffel bag and checked my guitar case next. The white guitar inside was still there, seemingly untouched. The carved wooden skull that served as the guitar head grinned emotionlessly at me, and I smiled back. I guess I was still in a bit of a hangover from Dia de Los Muertes when I decided to customize my guitar, and the skull was evidence of that. I strummed a few notes on the guitar before deciding that yes, it was still intact and in the same state it was when I had put it inside the case last night.
I hefted the duffel bag onto my shoulder and took hold of the guitar case. I saw out of the corner of my eye Sargento Fernandez wince at the weight of the duffel bag on my shoulder, but he got over it and he said to me, "Adios, Señor Rivera, and buenos dias."
"Buenos dias to you too, Sargento," I replied, and I walked out of the police station and into the brisk morning heat of Mexico City. The sun had just risen from behind the mountains, and yet I could already feel the sweat forming beneath my undershirt. And something told me that it wasn't all because of the heat. I walked down the street in search of the nearest payphone and soon found one just a block away from the police station. I laid my guitar case down beside the booth, reached for my wallet and took out as many coins as I could. I formed the coins that I got into a little stack that I then put on top of the payphone, and then I put three coins in the slot, took a deep breath, and dialed a number from memory. The line rang four times before a curt female voice picked up and said snappily, "Rivera."
"Imelda," I said in greeting.
There was a gasp, and then an exclamation, "Hector!" followed by a few seconds of silence in which I knew she was gathering both her thoughts and her emotions. "Good of you to remember to call back to your wife and child, musico," she finally said. "So how are things working out between you and The Chin?" "The Chin" was Imelda's nickname for Ernesto, so derived because of his most striking facial feature. Ernesto didn't like the nickname, and Imelda didn't care that Ernesto didn't like it. Just one of the many things on which they don't see eye to eye; my decision to go with Ernesto to make our fortunes in the capital being another one of those things.
"Yes, actually, about that, Imelda," I said haltingly, not sure of the words I was going to say. "I may have some good news and some bad news for you, mi amor."
"Oh, really? And what could that be?" Señora Imelda Rivera de Rivera, birth name Imelda Rivera Gutierrez, asked me.
"Well, Imelda, the good news is that I'm coming home much earlier than I anticipated," I said.
"Really?" Imelda asked, and for a very brief moment I thought I heard something close to excitement creep into her voice. But it was just that, a brief moment, and as soon as she spoke again it was gone. "That is certainly good news, Hector," she continued. "What has the Chin have to say about that though?"
"Ah, yes, Imelda," I said, rubbing my eyes with my free hand. "That is where the bad news comes in."
"Oh, my God!" Imelda suddenly exclaimed. "Don't tell me, Hector. Is Ernesto… dead?" The last word came out barely a whisper on the telephone.
"No, no, Imelda, he's fine," I replied. "Or at least I think he is. And I guess you could say that he was actually the one who left me for, well, dead."
"What? Why would he do that?" Imelda asked. "Did something happen? Did he do something crazy and stupid? Did you do something crazy and stupid? What is it, Hector?"
"I guess you could call it 'creative differences,'" I said. "But really, it's more like we were both drifting apart. But I'd rather not talk about it here. Anyway, the dream is over. The duo is gone. And I'm going home."
"Going home…" Imelda repeated. "But what about your dreams? Your passion? Your music?"
"Please, Imelda, I'd rather not talk about that," I said, shaking my head. I still hadn't gotten over the fact that the one man whom I thought was my friend would turn his back on me and even steal from me because he could no longer share the spotlight with me. Not that I minded that; I actually didn't like the spotlight all that well. I'd thought that Ernesto and I had actually had a good thing going for us: he was going to get and bask in all the praise while I kept to the background and nodded along. But apparently even that arrangement was now unacceptable to Ernesto de la Cruz the star.
"So what are you going to do now?" Imelda asked me.
"You know, I've been thinking about it," I replied. "I think it's time that we both swallowed our collective pride and go back to the zapateria."
"What!? Are you crazy, Hector? No!" Imelda shouted at me. "Do you really think they're going to just accept us both with open arms just because you said sorry for what you did to me?"
"That's why I said we have to swallow our pride, 'Melda," I repeated. "Now I know that that might be very hard for you to do because you've always been a very proud woman, and I've always loved that about you, but now I think it's time to end it. And yes, I am going to say sorry to you father and your mother and I'm going to promise that it won't happen again."
"Well of course it's no longer going to happen because it's now perfectly legal in the eyes of both the law and the Lord," Imelda retorted, and I could imagine her rolling her eyes as she said those words. "And remember that I didn't marry you just because of the sex. I married you because I love you and because I love Coco."
"And hopefully your parents have finally realized that they also actually love Coco despite the things they've said before," I added. Well, it wasn't that much of a stretch. Imelda's twin brothers Oscar and Felipe were already quite taken with Coco, and even La Señora Rivera, Imelda's mother, had a soft spot for her granddaughter. It was really just Imelda's father who was the big problem with any potential reconciliation between our little family and theirs. I'm sure that he is still quite angry at me for having deflowered his precious Imeldita at just eighteen years old even though it was actually Imelda who had wanted to try it out with me, and the product of that particular union had been little Coco.
"Okay, Hector," Imelda said. "Let's say that my father, as unlikely as it sounds, finds it in his heart to forgive you and me for our impropriety and accepts both of us back into the family. What then? What are you going to do? Work at the zapateria? Do you know, do you even want to know what kind of job my father would love to make you do for him and the zapateria?"
"You know what? I don't care," I replied. "Yes, it's true. I don't care what your father makes me do. I'll sweep up the shop floors. I'll throw away the trash. I'll clean the bathrooms. Hell, I'll even watch over the leather tanning if that's what he wants me to do. Whatever it is, I'll do it."
"Oh, my God," Imelda muttered. "You're really serious about that, aren't you? You know what, Hector? You're right. This isn't something that we can talk about over the phone. How soon can you get home?"
"As soon as I can find a bus back to Santa Cecilia," I replied.
"Right. I'll be waiting for you, mi vida. Te amo."
"Te amo, mi vida. I'll see you soon. And Coco." I waited until Imelda had put the phone down at her end before I put down mine. I had gone three-quarters of the way through my stack of loose change for the payphone, and I shoved the remainder into my pocket before I picked up my guitar case and began walking for the bus terminal. It was going to be a long ride home, and it was going to give me plenty of time to think.
A/N: Like some of my other works, this one just came in a moment of inspiration. I was just waiting for our ride during vacation and reminiscing about Coco and the thought came to me. I already had a story planned about a guy who plays Football Manager and posts it on YouTube, and then his hometown club sees the videos and decides to hire him as their new manager after they fired their last one. It then just turned into a matter of changing names around to turn what was my original work into a Coco fanfic. As always, if you like where this is going then feel free to leave a review or a comment. It really allows me to know what my readers like and what they want me to improve on. Thanks! — GR