Length: 11,000 words approx
Summary: Sequel to 'Optical Illusion'. What happens when all the calculation and forward-planning that marks Sands' new operational style falls down?
Note: An extremely belated sequel. The original was written all of three years ago. Note #2: was playing up when I uploaded this, so apologies for any hinky formatting.
Thanks: muchly to smtfhw for beta-reading.
Disclaimer: Robert Rodriguez owns all except Bowes, and somehow I don't think anyone but me would want her. Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
The bar, thinks Agent Bowes, is an award winner. It is officially the worst place she has ever been.
A dingy hole of an establishment off a piss-scented back street in a craphole town called Tepuehe. They have been waiting there two hours; two hours more than they should have been. By now, she needs a drink, but she sure as hell isn't about to drink here -- and the bartender has to be aware that she is not here innocently, because she hasn't touched her beer and it has gone beyond the realms of being physically possible to hide how much she does not want to be here. Sands, halfway across the room, about six feet away, is doing better, and she can hardly shine a spotlight on him by appealing to him to blow this joint already -- not without coming out of this looking like even more of a screw-up. She won't do that, even if she does have the feeling he gave up on the contact long ago and that's all he is now waiting for.
There are two exits to the bar, one of them six feet behind Sands and one behind the counter, and the door into the john is off to one side at the furthest point away from Bowes. It's still too early for there to be many patrons even if this town wasn't the ass-end of the universe, and there are just three other occupants; the bartender, a woman drinking alone, and a drunk sagged in a chair in one corner, sleeping like the dead. The room is tiny, about fourteen feet by ten. The chairs and tables are cramped so close together that if Sands has to move quickly, she suspects he might very well have to duck down to floor level and crawl. He's probably less worried about that than he would be if he could see the state of the floor. Then again, considering his hyperactive functional senses she's already astonished he hasn't keeled over from the stench.
Sands, leaning back in his chair with both elbows hooked over the corners of the backrest and a cigarette burning down to its nub in one hand, looks pissed and ridiculous. The one may have a little something to do with the other, but then she isn't absolutely sure he knows, and it isn't like there's not plenty else to be pissed over. But he's not too happy to have lost Rodrigo, either, whose reactions would give the game away whenever Sands was dressed like a clown. Bowes hides it better, even when it's not her screwing with his wardrobe. It wasn't her doing today. He dressed himself, claiming the shirt 'smelled yellow'. It's bright purple and he's matched it with khaki slacks.
She could kill the infuriating fuck any one of over twenty different ways and bury her best hopes of career advancement now. It's looking a more swell idea with every passing second.
But the seconds keep passing and she hasn't killed Sands yet. After enough seconds have passed that they've transmuted into another hour, the lone woman leaves at a stagger, the barman has tired of spitting into glasses and is rattling out of sight in the back, and she's not sure Sands isn't a few sheets to the wind when he finally stands up. The woman's footsteps fade into the noise of the street outside. He scrapes a hand back through his hair and his face twists with irritation. Sweat beads stand out on his jaw. His hair's glazed with damp from the heat. "This is a waste of time. C'mon, doggie--" He crooks a finger at Bowes.
She narrows her eyes, abruptly so much more reluctant to move.
"Iguiniz' contact can--" he starts to say, nastily, and freezes when she hushes him.
The drunk is still there, slumped in the corner. Even though he can't see, she can hardly believe it of Sands that he could be so careless, after the things she's seen him do. The name, spoken too loud, and a name that always rivets all nearby attention, steals the overpowering heat from the air and stifles her with its chill instead.
"The hell--?" Sands looks baffled, spinning in a slow circuit without his feet diverging from their safely furniture-free spot, head cocked to one side. "Bowes? There's somebody else in here?" He can't hear anyone, he really can't, and Bowes has a strange feeling about this. He hears her all right when she stands and the back of her chair thunks against the crumbling wall. Despite the obstacles, he's crossed the space between them and has a hand crumpling the fabric of her gauzy white shirt in an instant. "Show me."
"Off--" She snaps his grip with a move she's only lucky doesn't break any fingers. He grasps her arm instead and she lets him, and it's completely by accident that he manages to clock himself in the gut walking into a table as she leads him across the cramped room to the drunk, who still hasn't moved.
A gun has appeared in Sands' hand like a conjuror's trick. When Bowes signals their proximity, he grasps blindly with his empty hand, twining in a shirt that's too clean and too high quality for the image of the drunk to hold true any longer, and jams the gun under a chin that lolls. The shadowing wide-brimmed hat slips forward, sliding over Sands' fingers on the way to the floor.
Sands stills. His breath huffs out, barely making a sound. She's noticed that - when he's not talking, anyway - he often makes very little unnecessary noise; too reliant upon the sounds around to guide him to drown them out with his own. His fingers find the artery at the drunk's neck and discover what Bowes only needed a second's glance to ascertain. The mess of blood on the side of the head is a really fucking good clue.
The dead man's been arranged artfully with arms folded over chest, legs stretched out. Enough to fool the eyes, but then they couldn't exactly make him breathe.
"Shit," Bowes says.
"Fuck," Sands trumps her, something trite in his voice, like it's a correction. He withdraws his hand and wipes the red staining his fingers off on his pants. "Shit-fuck-shitting-fucking-fuck."
And okay, so it's somewhat dependent on what mood he wakes up in, but the rest of the days it's when Sands' vocabulary waxes stronger than 'Well, golly gosh darn' that she starts to really worry.
"Nice work, Bowes," he sneers. And right, of course it's her fault that they didn't consult over how many people their differing primary senses detected in the room.
He starts a frantic search of the body. There's not enough room for her to help even if he'd asked her to, and she decided within hours of their first meeting that she'd rather get snide reproofs for her omissions than her actions where his impairment is concerned because, hell, at least the entertainment comes provided if she's watching the prickly little fuck try to play the aloof, smarter-than-you badass while putting his left shoe on his right foot. Instead she draws her gun and stalks across to the counter, to get some answers from the bartender. He takes one look at her coming through the door and turns to run.
She shoots him in the foot and drags him back to Sands, who is waving a grubby piece of paper around and kicking the shit out of the corpse, which has slid down to the floor. He spins away and thrusts the paper so fiercely at Bowes it's all but inserted up her fucking nostril. She drops the wailing bartender and, swearing, snatches the paper even as she's reeling out of Sands' reach in case he does anything else characteristically looney-tunes.
"What does it say?" Sands spits.
She glares at the grubby scrap with its four half-moon tears where his nails have sunk through it. There's a slit torn through the centre of the top inch or so, as though it's been pinned to something. "It's a note. It says 'Come up and see me'." She adds helpfully, with a side portion of malice, "Gosh, I think that's supposed to be some kind of joke." Pause. "Where'd you get it?"
"Fuck! It was under his arms. Pinned to his chest. With this." He holds up something small in bloody fingers. It's a pin badge. The white dog on it is recognizably Snoopy, wearing sunglasses. Sands probably doesn't know about the latter part because it doesn't intrude upon the character's distinctive shape, but they both know the badge is the token Bowes shipped to Iguiniz' contact for the purposes of identifying himself.
"Who did this?" Sands kicks the downed bartender with unerring aim and elicits a stream of Spanish cussing and aspersions on his ancestry. A messy ten minutes later, they've established he probably really didn't know anything. Sands launches into a cascade of swearing again, and after a few minutes of that lapses into a strange silence, forehead furrowed and head on one side in concentration.
"'Come up'," Bowes wonders, unsettled by both Sands and the note.
"I vote it a sexual proposition. Me, I could use a six foot blonde with tits like basketballs in my life. What? Tactile, you know--" He shapes the air with his hands, one of them still full of gun.
She snorts and ignores that, along with the venomous query as to why would it matter if it was a blonde that's on the tip of her tongue. "This place hasn't got a second floor."
"It's got a roof--"
Yes, it did. And Bowes wasn't liking this at all. Somebody could be listening to them from a roof; lying still with an ear pressed to the surface, still enough that even Sands' ears wouldn't pick them out. "Like you're going to go climbing about on a roof."
"Not all that likely, no."
Fuck. "I'm not leaving you on your own while I go climbing about on a roof, either. This stinks of trap. We need to go back and approach this from another angle, another day. Whether this is Iguiniz' enemies or our enemies or, damn it, Iguiniz himself, there are other sources of information."
"Yeah? Well, I'm meeting this fucker. He knows too much about me."
"Or nothing. It isn't beyond possibility that the wording was a coincidence, Sands."
"Look, bitchcakes, it's nice you're so worried about your poor disadvantaged blind partner, here, but I already know who this is. Thinks he's a real boy scout, too, and he's not going to cap two CIA agents, even if they're us. Now, go pull him off the roof and tell him I've a word or two to share with him." A shove upon her shoulder sends her staggering. His aim misses the open door and she only just manages to catch herself before slamming face-first into the wall. She lashes out with her foot and sends the chair she tripped over on the way back at him, swears violently in Spanish, and exits.
She'll climb the fucking roof. Let them kill him while she's gone. If whoever this is knows anything about this dog-and-pony operation, they know Sands is the one that counts.
Outside in the open air, that's when she hears it -- what Sands' keener ears must have heard from inside the bar. The silken strains of distant guitar music.
He's not on the roof. She knew that much from the ground, but she couldn't see where he was either, and the vantage of the low building seems a reasonable place to start. From its flat, white top she follows the music up the side of an adjoining two-storey house. From there, she's close enough that she can start to pick out the tune, but still not close. She has to vault a three-foot gap to the next, slightly higher, roof. It's an easy jump, but her heart's in her mouth because, shit, she didn't train for this, she's not James fucking Bond. And whoever Sands' friend is, fuck him, because he knew it wouldn't be Sands jumping through his hoops on this trail.
The next building is some five storeys high, but it adjoins her current perch and there's an old wooden ladder that's gone brittle in the constant sun. She climbs it with a new silently-mouthed obscenity for every precarious, crumbling step, following the musical trail to the Pied Piper at the top. She redraws her gun before struggling over the edge - whatever whacked-out hiccup of the universe is responsible for Sands' sudden faith in their safety, she doesn't share it. Even if he's occupied playing the guitar, there's nothing to say the musician's alone, and even if she's got this far sufficiently quietly they haven't heard her above the music (which she doubts), Sands has her wearing so much perfume that someone with no nose and a bad cold would smell her coming. So she's keeping her eyes and gun raised even as she flops belly-down onto the rooftop with all the grace of a land-bound seal.
He's ten feet in front of her and dead in her sights, and the guitar music doesn't falter.
What she knows or cares about music, she could probably write on a post-it note. With a .38. But she thinks that, if she actually gave a damn, and if she wasn't as hacked off as she is, she might find his playing pleasant. Even with those occasional hitches that sound more like a failure of the flesh than the skill.
Bowes feels curiously loath to interrupt as she picks herself up and brushes herself off, aim never straying far from the crazy musician who likes to play head-games with the cartels and the CIA. The curses stay on the tip of her tongue. It's not the sound that's distracting. It's the way he plays that hunk of carved wood, sensual hands sliding and fingers rolling over its surface, a delicate tease upon the strings. It's the most sexual thing she's ever seen that's not sex.
Also, the crazy musician is mind-bogglingly, senses-blitzingly hot. It's a fact she notices. Just a fact. Noticed in a completely professional, detached manner. Hot like rugged, sweaty, needy, screwed-into-the-wall-of-an-alley hot. By a man who plays a woman's body like he plays a guitar, with his long straggling hair falling forward like dark feathers to veil a face fixed in concentration upon the act.
And, shit, maybe she should've just given in and spread for Sands, if she's feeling this horny about the S.O.B. that's had her climbing rooftops like Spider-man.
She realizes he's finished the tune while she was staring, when he raises his eyes to look at her and the wings of dark hair part with the motion. She catches herself late and narrows her own eyes. His hands don't move from the guitar. She still has the gun, and it's sort of leveled in her hand. She corrects her aim swiftly. "What the fuck are you playing at?"
His voice is as deep and soft and heavily accented as a dream. A number of her internal organs melt. She becomes, in the following instant, extremely annoyed with the mutineers and snaps, overcompensating with anger, "I wasn't asking the name of the frickin' tune, asshole."
"I know other tunes," he says.
"You know who I am?"
"I know who you work for."
And 'who' is Sands. And the CIA? Both, she decides. Sands knows this man. Sands knows this man knows too much about him.
"I don't know your name," he adds. Silk. His voice is silk.
She ignores the barely-implied question. "So who do you work for? Iguiniz? Vargas?" She's pretty sure it's not another agency, at least, though she's heard of dumber cross-purpose interagency fuck-ups than this.
"Only one man tells me what to do."
"Which man would that be?"
"They call him El Mariachi."
She's still blinking ten seconds later when she gets it. "You're putting in one hell of a claim on an urban legend. El Mariachi doesn't exist. Except as a tale to frighten the baby gangsters to wet their beds."
"Sands really doesn't believe in sharing." There's a gentle mockery to his tone. Hell. Sands... Fuck Sands. Sands knows this guy. Sands knows El Mariachi is real and he never fucking told her.
"Yeah," Bowes growls. "So this is what? A nice reunion meet? You could have phoned. Why all the games, if you and Sands know each other?"
"This from the CIA?" The arch question prompts a flat scowl she keeps locked in place until he moves on. "I wanted to talk. And Senor Sands... since Sands' habit was to make our talks in the past so... interesting, I endeavor to keep up tradition only."
It's not terrifically surprising that, though there's an obvious fascination here on both sides, they're just as clearly not friends. She's yet to meet someone Sands could call a friend.
"Great. That's fabulous, it really is. I worry so that little Jeffy just doesn't seem to have enough playmates. I hope the two of you have a nice reunion. I'll buy you both a fucking drink." Laced with Strychnine. She gestures with the gun. Without protest, he stands, sets the guitar carefully aside. His movements are fluid, his manner placid. She has the feeling that manner could drop away in an instant to reveal a fluid killer, violence as balletic as the dance of his fingers on the strings.
"You will not be able to hold a gun on me while we are climbing down," the mariachi points out.
No, but she'll have a great view of his ass.
"Then it's just as well you're the one that wants this fucking meeting." But she still doesn't put the gun away.
"Safer if Sands had come here," he murmurs, reflective.
Turns out he was right, though. Sands isn't there when they get back, but three new bodies full of badly-aimed bullet holes are.
Barillo is going to take his eyes.
The hell? Who extracts eyeballs? Who? HolymotheroffuckingGod, there have got to be easier ways to blind your enemies -- and he's going crazy here watching the drill and pincers descend. He'd almost rather watch Ajedrez, laughing beyond them.
FuckshitHolyChrist and half the world goes permanently dark. He's screaming, but then who the fuck wouldn't? He screams even more as Guevara swabs out the residue. He's peripherally aware that Ajedrez turned green as the deed was actually done and has fucked off, but it won't save her later.
And there's going to be a later--
The promise churns out of the pain and rises out of the desperation and gives him, at least, something to cling to. Except right now he's thinking √ something will happen. Something has to happen. They'll be interrupted. They won't go through with it. Oh, God, they won't go through with it... he can't handle that again. And it's not even the pain (except he knows he's a fucking liar, it is the pain, he never imagined pain like it) but he can't be -- can't be blind... Something will happen before the drill and pincers descend again. Then he'll run and hide and recover, until the day he comes back and takes Barillo's eyes, and his balls, and his fucking witch daughter.
Yet he's watching the metal descend with the one eye he has left, and there is no back-up and no cavalry and nothing's. fucking. happening.
God. God, no. Fucking no. This can't be real. He is Sheldon. Jeffrey. Sands, and this is the kind of thing that only happens to other people--
Ground Control to Sands -- being blind is yesterday's news, Agent Fuckmook, and thankyouverymuch Barillo you fuck (but hey, I'm blind and you're dead, Barillo; you're dead, fucker, you and your hellbitch, so who wins now?)
He seizes control of his breathing again, hissing too-quick, too-loud breaths through grit teeth until they slow and quieten almost to normal, because one thing he's sure of is that somebody's getting a free show here. And while he might've mused upon his own sideshow potential, he's not interested in entertaining the little shits who've snuck in through the back of the tent for a free peek. Control isn't easy. The last time he woke up in a situation with more than a passing resemblance to this one, he does distinctly recall that it didn't end too swimmingly for him.
He's sitting up. There are hard corners of a rigid wooden chair digging into the backs of his shoulders and knees. There's cord around his arms and ankles keeping him upright. And - wait - what? Huh, even if he could see, he couldn't see, because there's something... something soft and muffling, draped over his head. His head which aches... well, blindingly.
He can't feel the familiar pressure of the plastic against his temples and the bridge of his nose.
It's nice that they provided him another disguise after they were boneheaded enough to break his sunglasses, but really, this is a little much. Sounds, the biggest constituent of his universe these days, are muffled and made alien. He barely wraps his brain around the latter half of the sentence that's drawled at him in Spanish; "--you're awake, you ----."
He doesn't recognize the last word and he truly does marvel, because this delightful man seems to have found a Mexican obscenity he's not familiar with. No day is wasted where you learn something new, right?
"Where am I?" Sands respects the classics. His voice sounds like his tongue is knitted.
Two of them in the room, then, so far as he knows. There could probably be a dozen that haven't spoken squatting just ten feet away and he wouldn't have a clue, as functional as his senses are at the moment.
He could say 'beg pardon?' but doesn't feel like being used as a chew toy until absolutely necessary. He says, louder, "Where the fuck am I? And by the way, if you were thinking to conduct this conversation without fucking loudspeakers, you might want to try fucking off with this fucking bag." He jerks his head a few times and fails to shift it. "It's not exactly like I'd be able to pick any of you out in a line up, now, is it?"
"You wouldn't want to look at you."
Sands snorts. Lightweights. There are connoisseurs of torture and mutilation out there who would properly appreciate Guevera's handiwork, but these men are the Mexican equivalent of supplementing your income with a fucking paper round. Iguiniz' men in Tepuehe, which probably means that most of their time is spent herding goats -- although they might've been getting a little more action lately, from what he's heard. But right now they're just bored amateurs killing time while someone that counts arrives. At that point things will probably become less amusing.
Balls. Iguiniz thinks they killed the contact. Considering Sands definitely killed at least two of the men who came to take him from the bar, a protest of innocence isn't likely to cut it at this stage.
He really should've gone springing from rooftop to rooftop with Bowes, like an x-rated fucking Daredevil.
"Shit!" She stands in the bar with five dead men, a myth with the body of a gigolo, and no goddamn clue, and the fucking mariachi walks around picking up the tables she's just kicked over. One of them lists on a broken base. His eyes upon her are wary and knowing.
"I can see why they assigned you him."
Fucking comedian. "This is your fault, genius. You killed Iguiniz' man. Now Iguiniz thinks it was Sands. He's already blind, you piece of shit. How many more body parts do you think he can afford to lose?"
"Why do you care?" he returns, a fraction impatiently. "I thought you didn't like him anyway."
Since she really, really doesn't, Bowes elects for tight-lipped silence.
It's not... care. It's definitely not like. It's more a habit with Sands, she supposes. They sent her here to watch over him, and she watches. She really is his watchdog - his eyes - his seeing-eye bitch. She's seen him terrifying and she's seen him helpless, and the latter--
All they have to do to ensure the latter is lose control of the situation, and control of this situation has left the building, street, city, and is sipping Champagne on an airplane to the Bahamas.
And damn it, he's hers. She doesn't like him, but he's her fucking ticket, he's her responsibility, he's hers to put a bullet through on the day she doesn't need him any more. She wants him back, and she wants to gut the low-life shit-for-brains scum who had the gall to try and steal him. Even if she has to work with no-name the guitar-slinging urban legend to do it. Because it's more than that, too. She learned a long time ago that she is her job. And, well, he is her job. The job that her every minute of her every fucking day is devoted to, though best not to ask about job satisfaction. Sure, she will swear at him, insult him, screw with his clothes, take advantage of him in small, malicious ways, but... she will keep him safe. 24/7, she will be the one making sure he knows the layout of any unfamiliar territory the day might put within his path. She obtains his plans, helps him to memorize details scrawled on scraps of paper near-indecipherably for even eyes that see. She is his bodyguard and eyes in a crowd. She keeps him safe. Diligently.
Nobody messes with that.
Not that she expects El Mariachi to understand. The legend whose name is synonymous with death, he's probably never been responsible for another human being in his life.
And, so. Maybe that is care. Or something frighteningly close to it. And even after keeping company with Sands for six months, she still doesn't have the vocabulary to adequately express her feelings upon that.
"We're getting him back." Her voice comes out a hiss, low in her throat. She doesn't know what her face looks like, but she has the feeling any chance of jumping the man's perfect bones is out the window already.
"I will help you," he agrees, eyes still upon her in sideways study. His voice is too calm, like humoring a crazy. Patronizing prick. Such a generous offer, considering he's the one who dropped her and Sands in the deep brown stuff to start with.
What to do, what to do? she quizzes herself. Bringing in backup is obviously a fast way to make the mariachi split. Who'd she rather have? And, yeah, it's vaguely embarrassing that she even bothers to pose the question. Even without the opportunity to avoid having this pretty shit-storm go down on her record, the answer's a total no-brainer. She hates Caulson, the smug bastard; Peters is an incompetent and she knows Houston's in someone's pocket even if she doesn't know exactly whose, and she doesn't trust Nickleton either, and none of them have anything remotely resembling a nice ass, let alone one encased in nice-ass-hugging mariachi pants.
That still doesn't mean she trusts him. Just more than the CIA. She knows who she works for, and Sands' credit with The Man pirouettes upon the thin line between Agency Embarrassment and A Brain Too Valuable To Waste (So Long As He's Not Anywhere Near Us). Who's to say they wouldn't opt to conveniently lose him in the field, with her as scapegoat?
It doesn't mean she's too peachy about having to accept anyone's help, either. Off balance, without answers, resenting all of it, her last refuge of finely-honed resentful sarcasm circles warningly as the mariachi steals the guns and ammo from the bodies before it dives in to take a bite--
"What's the deal with this man-with-no-name crap anyway? Let me guess. You forgot your real name on a drunken bender and it's all a big cover to save on the embarrassment?"
"A story like that." Nothing seems to faze him. "But you haven't told me your name, either. I will need to call you something if we are to work together."
"Bowes. Liza," she snaps. And waits.
"Some people have called me 'El'." He waves the admission at her like he's slightly embarrassed to even pretend it's a fair exchange. All right, so the fucker doesn't want her to know his name. Fine. But she's really not going to call him 'El'. (The. She is not going to condescend to use the definite article as a fucking nametag. The mariachi. The asshole. The leather-clad sex moppet. And shit, Sands would tell her straight just what body parts have taken over her thought processes, and no doubt chide her for ruining a perfectly good gender clichИ that it's the male of the species who's led around by the pants.)
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she mutters. Thinking, if she could get the jump on him later -- that would be, later once this situation is suitably un-fucked -- she's pretty sure she could get it past Sands to chain him up and keep him in the spare room. Advantages of having a boss who's so whacked in the head the CIA don't even want him back in the country while he's working for them.
She lets The Studmuffin take the lead out the bar and, presumably, in getting them to Iguiniz, because she has no intention of letting on that she hasn't the first clue where Iguiniz' local power base is. And, okay, because the view's better if she's walking behind.
Sometimes Sands' mind screws around providing the visual details that aren't there, in truly psychedelic fashion. Usually it just fucks with the patterns and colors -- cotton candy pink skies and green polka dots on the walls -- but today it's Disneyland. A man in a Mickey Mouse suit is yelling questions at him, and the mouse's quiet partner Goofy over there is leaning bored against a cheerfully plastic wall.
He's not absolutely certain there weren't any drugs involved while he was out, but - what d'you know? - he certainly doesn't have enough faith in the stability of his brain that he'd lay money on this being chemically inspired.
And maybe he should be turning his creative energies to more immediately helpful avenues, because it seems Minnie's just hit the scene
She wafts in through the room's (he thinks) only door, and he feels the draught against his body. Even through the fucking bag, she smells clean and distinct, and he could pick her out from the minions at fifty paces. And that would be really super-spiffy-swell, if he was untied and had a gun in his hand.
He also feels a shiver of cold which has nothing to do with the movement of air (warm air. Fucking Mexico, remember?). Call him paranoid, but after Ajedrez, he's just not all that impartial on the issue of female torturers. Women are more freakin' vindictive than men. He has all the proof he needs in the form of his ex-girlfriends. He doesn't just mean Ajedrez, although he'd bet anything it was Ajedrez who came up with that major what-the-fuck eyeball extraction shit.
"Sands?" she says. And she's muffled, obviously, but her voice is sensually deep and efficiently clipped. Odd intonation. Sounds young, but he's discovered those sorts of impressions often don't mean shit. He trusts scent and movement more. The latter is economical. Once she stops a few paces from him, her feet are still and she doesn't shift. She smells, yeah, sterile. But not surgical (like Guevera). No artificial scents, no stain of dirt or sweat either, which is just fucking weird in fucking Mexico. She's almost a sensory blank after what he's used to patching his images of people together from. It's like he's wandered into some sci-fi flick, and he's torn the android's mask off and is looking at a wiped-clean face with no nose or mouth or eyes--
He wonders what's with that and muses on the possibilities and thinks... obsessive compulsive. Fucking handwasher. Yeah, that could fit. And he wonders if that trait helps with the torturing or not. Must be hell washing all the blood off her booties.
Mickey and Goofy, meantime, have grunted their confirmation of Minnie's question (she's morphed into bondage gear now, and cartoons will never be the same again. He hopes the whip isn't real, although he supposes it's a better option than other things he could imagine, so maybe he'll go for hoping it is).
"Why's he got a T-shirt on his head?" She sounds mucho unimpressed about that factoid. And now he hears enough of her voice to note it, she's not Mexican either. Nor American. He thinks she's French, but there are quite a few other influences in there and it's hard to pin them all when she's speaking Spanish.
Sands hears the minions shrug and shift. She delivers another string of Spanish her accent chews up so heavily he doesn't catch it. He feels the muffling fabric lift and the veil parting him from the world falls away. He's somewhat annoyed that, despite everything, for a split second he still almost expects that light will flood in with the removal of the barrier and he'll be able to see. Fuckwit.
"Oh, my." He was right, earlier. She's definitely impressed. And this is anything but good. Okay, she can totally put the T-shirt back now. "Agent Sands," she says, curling her tongue around the English words with relish. "I was going to make an example of you, but I see someone beat me to it."
It's a great opening, and he's truly tempted to feign innocence ("I'm really not sure what you mean") but survival digs its heels in. He even manages to sound calm, at least if 'calm' equals 'pissy'. "This is all a big mistake. Yours, I might stress. I'm CI-fuckin'-A, capeesh? I didn't kill your man, but I sure as hell protected myself when your goons came rushing in with bullets and assumptions. Somebody's trying to play us off against each other, and if you want to catch them at it, Sweetcheeks, you want me alive and standing helpfully at your side to do it." He'd tell them exactly who it is that's fucking with them, if it wouldn't be like asking them to believe in fairytales.
She snorts. Softly, but there's such utter disdain in the sound he knows that particular play is lost even without the foray into Brothers Grimm territory. She hasn't so much as considered his plea of innocence, which makes him think something else is going on here. Like the meet was a set-up from the start, or a prelude to one since they're nowhere near close to the centre of Iguiniz' organization yet and all of this is essentially the earliest of foreplay.
And come to think of it, they did come to investigate what'd happened to Mr. Snoopy the contact pretty nifty-quick. Why does he suddenly get the feeling he'd be sat right here even if El Miserachi hadn't screwed the pooch on their little clandestine meet?
He becomes aware the bitch has got something in her hand that she's toying with. It's amazing the amount of noise things make when you don't have eyes to work with. He might've lost his sight, but he's discovered he spent his previous life half deaf. He wonders how long it will take her to realize he can't see her almost-certainly threatening posturing, and evidently he thought too soon because the next thing he knows, she's sliding whatever it is over the side of his face. He hisses air through his teeth as it crests his cheekbone and draws blood. Thin. Sharp. Knife, but not a normal knife. Thin like a needle. Feather light, and the cut she's drawn stings like a papercut, which means it hurts like a motherfucker.
He tries not to move his face. She's baiting him and he is not going to bite. She can cut him up all she pleases, he is not fucking afraid of pain.
Yeah, still a liar. So? A little posturing in the face of torture is good for the soul. Give it half an hour or so, and he'll probably be spending plenty of time whimpering then. But as long as she's cutting him, well, she's only cutting him.
The spike drags backwards from his face to skirt his hairline and tickle his earlobe. He knows she feels the reaction from him as the needle point spirals around and inside.
Oh, sweet Jesus, no, he can't do this. Can't cope with a world full of silence as well as darkness. It's not just that he won't be able to use a computer, or guide his own steps without being hand held every minute, or maintain any iota of independence. Take the arena of conversation - of verbal exchange - from him, and he's nothing. Even now, all he needs is a cellphone to instigate a bloody revolution in a half dozen countries not Mexico. Even now, there's texture and form in the darkness without having to grope around to find it, and at least he has the satisfaction of being able to hear himself fucking swear.
She's a tease. The spike retreats. It's no reassurance as concerns her future intentions, but as long as the fucker isn't in his ear -- her mistake.
He rocks on the chair. He knows where her arm is, roughly, though he's not sure of the angle of the spike, but then he'd rather be Sands kebab and the spike through his brain than what it seems her plans are for him. But as it happens he misses the blade and falls face first against a nice rack as the whole chair goes sideways. She tries to shove him off and he bites down hard when skin brushes his face.
So he was lying about not biting.
She overbalances, sending them both crashing to the floor. Wood splinters and he's got one arm half free and an elbow in the eyesocket, which isn't fun. But the clean woman is screeching fit to rupture something, and the elbow might've even been an accident. Bites are so unsanitary. The grubby paws trying to pull him off her as Mickey and Goofy wake up and join the action are neither accidental nor gentle. Sands gnaws on Frenchy's arm like a chicken leg and shoves his half-free hand down his pants.
Why yes, he does still keep that toy gun in his short and curlies. It's saved his bacon far too many times to be anything less than his favorite essential personal accessory. Barillo didn't find it and he's been quite able to tell from the familiar comforting discomfort jabbing his groin that these amateurs didn't either.
He's not sure what they think he's doing, but the grasping paws immobilize his arms and he has no choice but to loose Minnie's arm to catch his breath, mouth and nose full of blood that's not his. The hand that's still down his pants is, however, curled around the crotch cannon. He can't move the arm, but he twists the hand and fires and hopes to hit something that preferably is attached to someone else, but at least only his leg.
He doesn't feel an impact, which means he'll just have an amusing hole in his trousers. Or - whoops - two. He didn't intend to depress the trigger again, but someone swearing on his right and another someone on his left (he's lost track of who is who) have gone after his half-free, pants-bound left hand with a vengeance, getting in each other's way almost as much as in Sands'. A body falls to the floor, and he can't hear Minnie's wailing any more. Well, shucks. Looks like Iguiniz will need to find a new Chief-Torturer-and-Cock-Warmer.
A familiar circle of metal is pressed against his forehead and a very pissed off Mickey growls, "Fucking stop."
At that point, it seems a sensible idea. At least until the explosions rip through the building and the incompetent with a gun to his head is considerate enough to flinch.
"There is a man," the mariachi says, setting down the guitar case which, it turns out, doesn't just hold a guitar, and lighting up a cigarette. Bowes stares at him.
They're outside a walled building designed like a fucking medieval fortress two miles out of Tepuehe with the bodies of the two guards who were stationed at the south wall, and now is a good time for a freaking smoke? Does he want to be seen?
But there's something immovable in his manner, as he sits down on the corpse of the man he killed and takes a drag. With thunder in her thoughts, Bowes kicks her own dead man into a more comfortable position and copies him. "A man," she offers. Like she's interested.
"He sells carpets for forty years." He shrugs. "Carpets. Rugs. His merchandise is reasonable, he pads the price a little more than some, his customers neither like nor dislike him. He is merely a merchant, and there are many of those."
And the point of this thrilling little tale lies where? She doesn't say it, but figures he can read it subtitled in her expression.
"One day a man from Iguiniz' cartel comes to the merchant. He makes an offer he has made to a hundred, a thousand other merchants before. A hundred, a thousand merchants before have meekly accepted. Merchants younger than he, stronger, with greater power than he in the community. But this merchant √ he says no. He will not allow his business to be a cover for cartel drugs."
"What the fuck are you trying to say?" Bowes snaps, losing patience. She stands up because being perched on a still-warm corpse is disgusting and the day is too hot as it is. She looks around edgily and fingers her gun. She does not like how exposed she feels here.
He waggles his head. "A little while only," he promises.
"And the carpet salesman?"
The mariachi's face mimics slightly vague philosophical contemplation. "Is that courage? Or foolishness? I do not know. He could not win. His refusal could not harm them. There are many others who will do as the cartel asks. But he made a stand."
"What happened to him?" Bowes, agitated, thinks he's trying to piss her off.
"They took him away. Tortured him. A carpet salesman. It is said that he still does not agree to do as the cartel asks."
Bowes shudders. If that little piece of local folklore is supposed to be a morality tale... she fucking hates Mexico; not like Sands hates it, with that edge of glee that even if the CIA don't want him anywhere near them, they've planted him down in his own personal massive playground. And if the story's supposed to set a precedent for what 'El' expects of Sands, the CIA's representative in his fucking country and a man trained, like herself, in anticipation of the risk of torture, he's really going to be disappointed.
A frigging carpet salesman.
"You do not like this story, eh?" There's bleak humor in his face. "Smile, Senorita Bowes. I think maybe we can do something to change the ending yet."
And all hell breaks loose.
All hell breaks loose, and the man slouching beside her is so clearly not surprised. He stands up briskly and stomps out his cigarette while her ears are ringing and she's trying to figure out where the explosions are coming from. It's the other side of the building.
"Over the wall." He strips his jacket and tosses it up to hang across the barbed edges at the top, and crouches down to make a cradle with his hands for her foot. Swearing under her breath, she steps into it. His boost almost makes her take to the skies... my word, he is strong. She catches the jacket and swings over. Sharp edges scrape her elbow, but she's across and her knees shout as she lands neatly on the other side. An instant later, he's beside her, the retort of his pistol felling a man who noticed their arrival.
There are too many other things happening for the other cartelistas in sight to notice their arrival at once. Half the compound seems to be on fire. ...Sands? The mayhem level fits, but she doesn't see a blind man setting fires. He's here somewhere, though, in all of this.
She curses under her breath, pulls out the perfume bottle from the moneybelt hidden under her shirt and splashes the contents liberally upon wrists and throat. The mariachi reels, holds up a stalling hand and makes a noise through his nose and teeth that's more eloquent than words. Bowes bares her own teeth back at him. "I don't want to get fucking shot by my fucking partner, okay?"
"It was already bad enough. Our enemies would smell us coming from the next town!"
"It wears off in the heat," she snaps. "And I can hardly smell anything but stinking smoke! And, Christ, like you can speak? You've got fucking bells on your pants."
"Well, I hope then Sands will not shoot me either."
Mocking, she offers him the bottle and contorts her expression into a tiger's grin. "Just in case?"
"Ack!" Disgustedly. "If he is in any condition to shoot anything. If he's alive, even." He considers; calms. "No, he is alive. They will want information."
Bowes doesn't know why he's bothered enough about Sands to be reassured. Call her crazy, but she doesn't find the thought of the bastard in someone else's chopshop particularly reassuring. The very last thing on her to do list is spending the next few weeks waiting hand and foot on a convalescent Sands.
So he's stuck in a room, in the dark, with three bodies. Somewhere close by, somebody's blowing things up, and that was nice and convenient a moment ago but it could get inconvenient very quickly. He's still half tied to a broken chair. His face is covered with blood but yeee-haw, at least it ain't his own, baby, although he probably does look like a mad dog.
He resolves the chair issue with gritted teeth and contortions to free his left hand all the way, then feels around for Minnie's pointy fucker of a knife. When he doesn't find it, he starts to pick at the knots on his right wrist with a will, all the while cursing fit to turn the air blue. Hey, for all he knows he succeeds. It's not like he'd see it either way. The knots binding his legs are easier with two hands, but he's still wasting too much time.
He confirms to his satisfaction that the bodies are quite dead and strips them of anything resembling a weapon. One of them, he thinks Goofy, has what he initially takes for a pair of sunglasses in his breast pocket, but upon closer examination he decides the lenses are probably the varying thickness of prescriptions and he leaves them, because that would just be fucking weird, right? A man with two big holes in his face running around shooting people while wearing reading glasses?
He arms himself and replaces the prick piece where it lives (where he lives, heh heh) because, hell, he's probably going to run out of here and straight into their arms again.
On balance, he decides to leave most of the blood on his face where it is.
He stands up on unsteady legs, stumbles over corpses, and feels his way to the door. Easier of course to feel your way blind when you're not grasping guns in both hands, but he'll settle for the trade-off.
He needs to get out of here. He can only assume that whoever's responsible for the explosions isn't aware he's inside even if they do both happen to be on something approximating the same side. He doesn't believe for a single moment that it's Bowes. She doesn't think this big, and even if she's competent enough to find the place (he doesn't believe that, either), she'd come with CIA backup and papers or guns or maybe both, and likely get herself banged up right beside him. Dearth of imagination is a terrible thing.
On the other side of the door is a blank. An invisible world stretches out before him. He stands in it and leans against a wall and tries not to panic like a lost kid. The chief trick of being blind is to remember, precisely, how you got somewhere so you can fucking get back. He doesn't remember being brought here, there's nobody nearby making a noise (should've left one alive; gouge out an eye with his thumb and it provides an understanding for his predicament that makes people real helpful with the directions) and he has nothing to work with.
Not Bowes. Not plans. Not even a cane.
His world is a dance of preparation and logic, mathematics in the darkness. Well, today he has no eyes and no figures, which marks him probably screwed before he's even started.
Except - Sheldon Jeffery Sands, embrace the power of positive thinking, dickwad - he has the wall at his back, and if he knows anything it's that wall's go somewhere. Doors or more walls, and eventually exterior walls and exterior doors. He trails the back of his knuckles along it, gun still clutched in his fingers like another lifeline, and follows the wall.
Wall, wall, wall, wall - good wall, nice wall, firm and real and straight against the back of his knuckles. A wall is a blind man's friend. Yep, walls are freakin' great.
This building doesn't seem to have a single regular angle in it, and even when it's not conspiring to send him sprawling or walk him face-first into a wall (okay, so maybe they're not that good. Fucking turncoats) it's a bitch to navigate. There's the occasional vector of noise that he drops with as many shots as it takes to be sure. He daren't try for a prisoner he can question when he can't see how badly they're really hurt, or if they've got a weapon trained on him.
Of course, eventually he reaches his goal of a door into the outside world, and with it another shiny new challenge he'd honestly been putting off thinking about.
He has one hell of a sense of shape and space, and he's tuned it about as finely as he might these past months, but set him down in open ground without Bowes' prep and even he could wander in circles forever. From the resonance of sound when it hits the air, he thinks there's a heck of a lot of open ground between here and wherever the gate out of this place is.
It's a relief when some jolly son of a gun opens fire on him, and at least he has targets to aim at and the bonus of feeling marginally fucking capable.
The nearby exit from the section of the compound that's not on fire has stopped expelling men like ducks on a fairground range -- and damn, because that was kind of fun. However, the men appearing from elsewhere, less exposed, are beginning to cause a problem, because Bowes and her mythic shadow do not have much in the way of cover as they try to make their way to the door.
El Janglepants seems content to stay on her tail. Watching her ass? She can but hope. More likely he doesn't trust her, and she knows the feeling. She still hasn't got an answer from him regarding what's going on. She dismisses out of hand the idea of him not knowing the source of the explosions.
A wild bullet scores her arm by chance. Cursing, she takes what cover there is and tears off her thin shirt to attempt wrapping the copiously-bleeding wound with what's still, even when folded and rolled tightly, a pathetically sparse scrap of material. The mariachi hands off his guns to her and takes over, and she lays down covering fire while he binds her arm and stifles the blood flow.
"What's this?" Underneath the shirt she's worn a black vest that stretches taut over what little skin it doesn't expose. The mariachi's finger trails over the reddened, ugly skin on her upper arm.
"Psoriasis. Don't fucking poke it, you shit-for-brains guitar-fucking gun-freak." This has not been a good week.
He snorts a soft laugh. "I meant this." Oh. His finger's circling the tattoo. "Army?"
"No, girl scouts. Fuck off." She manages to get through weeks at a time without even thinking about why she's a fuck-up in the CIA and not a fuck-up in Special Ops, and whether that's the golden nugget of dung in her file which explains why Sands liked her record so much, out of the other fuck-ups he was offered. His knuckles brush her arm accidentally as his fingers retreat, and shit -- anyone would think he was trying to make her too horny to fight.
"Was it worth all this crap?" she yells, as someone suicidal opens fire with a fucking machine gun roof-mounted against a backdrop of raging flames and they hit the ground side by side. "Whatever you wanted to talk about with Sands?"
"It depends. If they are alive," he responds, a murmur barely audible and she's not sure how much it's meant to be.
They? Who the fuck are they? Sands could be a part of 'they'. Sands and?
Sands and a fucking carpet salesman. The thought stabs like knives into her brain, angry and obvious. Fucking double-dealing jangle-turd. They've been set up from the start.
As she's debating whether it's worth expressing her fury with a bullet while they're surrounded by other fucks shooting at them, movement catches the corner of her eye from a hole in the burning part of the building. She redirects her aim in an instant, but she's curtailing her finger's motion on the trigger even before the mariachi yanks her arm down. Two more mariachis, armed to the teeth, and a third man stumbling and bloodied between them. The third man isn't Sands.
No -- there's Sands, the maniac, falling out of the door they were watching earlier, into open ground with no cover in sight, with no eyes but a gun in each hand, blasting away at anything that makes a noise.
Jesus H... face a mask of concentration and animal instinct, guns in his hands pointed wide for an aim dependent on hearing, not sight, he really is like something out of a myth. Maybe it's because today she knows he has no map built ready-prepared in his uncanny memory, no calculations to work from. There's something about him that's beautiful and shocking and hopeless all at once, and she's not used to associating impressions like that with Sands, the irritating bundle of twistedness she argues with and whose socks she pairs.
It may also be the weirdest, most screwed up thing she's ever seen. But it takes her breath away nonetheless.
The mariachi swears under his breath. "Hombre loco," he breathes. But there's respect in his voice too. Yeah, they are all mad here.
"You think? He's fucking nuts. And lucky as hell for it. If he was sane, he'd be a real cripple." And also, shit.
"Sands!" she yells, tearing the shout out as loud as she's able, raising his name above the surrounding noise, even as the guns begin to turn towards them, the eyeless face trailing a beat behind. "It's Liza. Don't you dare shoot me!" She adds an instant behind as the guns pause, aimed but silent, "The mariachi's here, too." She eyes the more distant party, who are approaching and will shortly be in danger from his fire. "And some of his friends." Bowes and the mariachi cross the remaining distance to Sands at a cautious run.
"He's with you?" One gun seeks out the mariachi. For a moment, she thinks she just gave him a reason to pull the trigger.
"I am." A finger touches the gun barrel, presses it to one side. Dark eyes veer worriedly towards the other party, who are working their way towards them. "Please do not shoot my friends."
"Well, hell, El. Long time, no see. Decent of you to drop by." To Bowes' surprise, Sands lowers his weapons entirely. Too many non-targets around, she supposes, but she wouldn't have bet on it stopping him. Maybe he doesn't want the walking legend to see him make mistakes, even deadly ones. Maybe his grin is a little more off balance than usual. "You know what? They tell stories about me in this crack-ass country of yours now, too. I'm the Man With No Fucking Eyes."
"I know." Soft. Dangerous. And Bowes thinks, maybe she should've kept these two apart.
"Hard to miss at the moment, of course." He puts a gun away to make an open-handed gesture towards his face.
"I've heard the stories, Sands. They are impressive. But you are still blind."
Sands raises a middle finger slowly and deliberately, delivery emphatically the most gentile reply he has. Bowes sighs with relief that he didn't shoot anyone. "Go fuck yourself with your guitar."
El Mariachi sucks air through his teeth and rounds the noise off with a click of his tongue, and he still retains perfect rhythm and pitch.
The other mariachis and their stumbling friend have almost reached them. She can see Sands following their progress with his ears, confusion breaking through the concentration on his face, then slowly dawning anger. He turns his face, eyeholes gaping, up to El Mariachi proper.
Before he can voice whatever's poised on his partly-open lips, 'El' interrupts him, grasping his arm, hustling the blind man in a very deliberate direction, and holy fuck how is he doing that and not dead on the floor? "It is time to leave."
So there's three mariachis, a carpet merchant, Agent Bowes, and that eyeless fucker S J Sands piled into the back of a truck like so much blood-spattered cargo. He doesn't know who the driver is. It sounds like it only needs a punchline, though.
He feels strung out, nerves stretched taut to snapping, the world distant and echoey but at the same time more intensely felt than normal, and yeah, he's pretty sure now that there were drugs involved earlier to keep him out. The jolting around is making him nauseous, which just doesn't happen, and he sincerely hopes he's not going to throw up in front of the rest of this little freak show. He doesn't know how many of them are already staring.
Christ, he lost the reins of this one all right.
Bowes, the sweetness intermingled with sweat on his right side that still smells better than the rest of the bodies present, stops rustling and taps his arm with something small. He reaches and his fingers fold around the familiar contours of sunglasses. Hers, not his. Their dark lenses aren't quite big enough to cover all of the damage. He slides them on anyway and feels the bodies around relax a bit. Since he's no interest in making their minds easier, he almost takes them right off again. Almost.
It's easier to be concerned about the rest of appearances with them on. He shifts his position in the bed of the truck, sitting straighter. He doesn't particularly care about whoever he's kicked while doing it - one of the mariachis he doesn't know? - and smirks because he'd rather them believe it wasn't an accident. He raises his head and swipes his straggled hair out of his face.
He's up next to the cab, Bowes on his right side. 'El' is down the other end of the truck bed, as far from him as it's possible to get, which may or may not be deliberate. On the other side of Bowes is the mariachi who smells of alcohol. Opposite him is the other one, and the only identifying clue he has there is a trace of poser aftershave, almost buried by the other scents. The carpet merchant is between that one and El.
The carpet merchant. The fucking carpet merchant.
He's been used.
"Well now, aren't we a fine bunch of folk heroes," he sneers. El mariachi, El hombre sin ojos, El vendedor de la alfombra. This country is so fond of the definite article, and he's heard whispers of its new bearer on the grapevine these last few weeks.
Hushed, the carpet merchant asks the mariachi beside him, in Spanish, "What happened to his eyes?" And, shit. Squeak, squeak. That's not a man, it's a mouse. All of this - risking his life - for a mouse.
"Fucking Barillo. Fucking Guevera. Fucking Barillo's fucking daughter." Sands intervenes to forestall a no doubt thoroughly inept summary of last November's events. "I still have ears." He tips his head on one side. "Now don't you feel lucky." He has no idea what the cartels did to this man, but he was walking, sort of, earlier, and all his senses seem to be intact.
The man stutters apologies. Sands reaches for his cigarettes, starting to enjoy himself again, only to discover they're not there. Of course they aren't.
"Hush, Manuel," El says, his tone weary but respectful. "You do not need to talk to this man."
The gun springs into his hand as the voice bearing he's been waiting for is kindly provided. It clicks on an empty chamber. And double-shit, because while he was pretty sure that was the case, his next target would have been that carpet merchant they risked his ass to save, a demonstration more eloquent than any words of what he thinks to that plan. According to what his ears tell him, which may not be the fullest picture at the moment while his concentration is screwed by movement, engine noise and drugged nausea, El hasn't reacted in the slightest. Meanwhile, the mariachi opposite Sands is cursing and no doubt there's at least one weapon leveled upon him in return now.
"This was not your plan." He can smell El's amusement.
"El Presidente, he asked our aid handling the Iguiniz situation." A pause. "He had a few suggestions of his own."
Fucking Presidente! Another El, and he knew there was a reason he'd wanted the fucker to die. And now he has to wonder how much this El knows about the CIA's involvement in the attempted coup. "You bunch of shit-for-brains guitar strummers, this is me." He jerks the empty gun up towards his own chin. "I was on it--"
"It would not have been in time." He'd already been sniffing around Iguiniz' operations. Did they somehow prompt the contact to happen, at this place, at this time? Or merely use the conjunction that was handed them? Made sure the meeting went sour, definitely. Got Bowes out of the way for Iguiniz' people to pick him up -- and fuck, he let them, he let them do that. He's been their gamepiece. Fucking blind, clueless gamepiece. Duped and dumped - in the dark - into the enemy's arms. Nothing but a distraction.
El adds, musing, as though Sands actually suggested it, "Working together? Perhaps a possibility for next time, yes? We have dealt only with this small part of the local operation, after all. The job is not finished yet."
He feels his face twist, stretching the skin of his empty sockets, and even though he knows there aren't any bullets, he points the empty gun at El's voice and pulls the trigger again, and again, and again. "You fucktard sonuvabitch cocksucking pigfucking shiteating--"
Sounds announce a position shift he doesn't have the energy to even try to find focus enough to counter blind, and the useless weapon is twisted from his hand.
"We will talk later." Fucker doesn't even have the grace to stick a question mark on the end.
But then there's a rustle and a familiar noise, and El Mariachi redeems himself; replaces the taken gun, presses instead a lighted cigarette into Sands' outstretched hand.