Spirit of tabasco, p.1
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       Spirit of Tabasco, p.1

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Spirit of Tabasco
Spirit of Tabasco


  Richard Diedrichs

  Copyright 2014


  “Everything, Julian! He sold it all,” my mother shrieked.

  I stepped into the dark living room. “What are you talking about?”

  My mother’s face glowed in the light of her phone screen. “The storage unit. We didn’t even divide it up yet. Everything we owned.” She lowered the phone and reached for her wine glass.

  I wanted out, but I sat on the edge of the chair, across from her. “Why don’t you let some light in here, Mom?” I said. “Open the curtains. It’s depressing.”

  “I don’t want light in here. I don’t want to see this dump.” She sipped her Chardonnay. “I will get even with that man, if it’s the last thing I do,” she sajd. The gloom of the room and the stress of battling my father made her face look tired, haggard beyond her forty-four years.

  “Great attitude, Mom. The cold dish of revenge. That will fix everything.”

  “You listen to me!” my mother said. “That man has gone too far. If he thinks he can cheat me out of my half, he’s in for a very unpleasant surprise.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “He has crossed the line, Jules, and there is no going back.”

  “Wonderfully ominous, I must say, Mother. And good luck with that. Now, your National Merit Scholar of a son has homework to do.” I walked out as she drained her glass and I stood in the kitchen. I could have brought her the wine bottle, but I figured it would be enabling. I never understood why she left the bottle in the next room. Did she think it showed restraint? Maybe by the time she reached it, she figured she earned another glass. Or maybe she worried that if the bottle was right there in front of her on the table, she would finish it off. I don’t remember my mother being much of a drinker before my parents split. Every night when my father got home, she mixed him two or three Vodka Collinses, and they debriefed his work day. Usually she nursed a glass of wine. At their parties, she was propping him up by the end, while he staggered around making an ass of himself. And she certainly was not the parent who drove through town running Saturday-morning errands with an open pint of vodka jammed in his crotch and two young sons standing behind him on the back seat.

  Fantasia of a bygone era. I did not have time to indulge. I had too much else to think about, including three hours of homework. It usually took me an hour a night just to do Chemistry. I was in all Advanced Placement classes, as a high school junior. I don’t know how it happened, since no one in my family had ever gone to college. In fact, none besides my mother made it through high school. But I was a star student from the start. In Kindergarten, I was the first to string together paragraphs. By Sixth Grade, I headlined the District Forensics Tournament. I spent all six semesters in middle school and the first four in high school on the Honor Roll. I am not trying to impress here. It was a fact that succeeding in school was what I did. It came natural. Some kids are beautiful, some musical, some athletic. I was studious. It got me praise and attention from my distracted parents. My father seemed most invested in my scholastic success, since he quit high school as a senior to become business manager for a rock band that he and his friends started. “Soon, you will be my lawyer, Julian, my consigliere,” he said, more than a few times. “Just think what a team we will make.”

  I sat at the cramped table in the ten-by-ten bedroom that I shared with my older brother, Johnny. I looked at my Chemistry textbook and read the homework questions: Explain which is a polynomial and why: x2 − 4/x + 7x3/2 or x2 − x/4 + 7; Explain the difference between the oxidation number and the valency number of an atom.

  I heard footsteps in the hall and slouched in my chair. Johnny whisked into the room. He leaped back in a Fosbury Flop on to his bed. “Mom just told me. She is pissed. Maybe we should pay the Old Man a visit. Kneecap him. Readjust his attitude,” he said.

  “I’m trying to work here,” I said.

  “Sor-ry, Einstein.”

  I pushed the textbook aside. “Maybe we can water board him, as well.”

  “The guy deserves it. He’s cold.”

  “Johnny, this is your father you’re talking about.”

  “Tell him that. He could care less. You’re his shining star.”

  “If this is shining, my heart goes out to the stars,” I said.

  “Who you: Alfred Lord Tennyson?” Johnny laughed.

  “You know Tennyson?”

  Johnny sat straight and threw out his cleft chin. “…`the moon may draw the sea; The cloud may stoop from heaven and take the shape, With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape.’”

  “Who knew?”

  “Just because I flunked high school doesn’t mean I don’t know poetry?” Johnny lay back down and leaned on his elbow, head cradled in his palm.

  “You didn’t flunk. You quit.”

  “Same difference. A waste of everyone’s time.”

  “Teachers don’t have patience for underachievers.”

  “I seem to be right on course, working in a laundry and facing a felony charge.”

  “Circumstantial. But leave Dad alone. For now. We’ll figure this out.”

  “Aye, aye, Capitán. It’s in your capable hands. I need to take a shower and meet Thuy.” He grabbed clean underwear from his drawer in the dresser and loped toward the bathroom.

  I slid my textbook in front of me and stared at the questions. I could answer the second one. I could finagle words. For numbers, I turned to Thuy, Johnny’s girlfriend. She was brilliant in math and a Cal Tech dropout. But I left my phone in the kitchen. I had to go get it in a hurry.

  I crept into the hall, listening for my mother bawling or banging things around. If she was in a state, I would forget the mission and call Thuy later. All I could hear was the sound of Johnny’s shower from the bathroom behind me. I put my head through the doorway to the kitchen, and took a couple more steps. I heard the clock ticking in the living room. “Mom?” I turned the corner.

  “It’s okay. I’m okay. Come here, Jules.” My mother sat up on the sofa and lowered her smartphone. “Come sit by me.”

  I walked through the shadowy lamp-lit room. In the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something skitter under the chair. Roaches around there were about as big as mice. Or it could have been mice. I sat next to my mother on the couch, watching my shoe tops. I put my hand in her open palm on the cushion. She and my brother were the only context I had, exiled to this shabby duplex, after living my whole life in our family home in a better part of town.

  “We’ve suffered a great loss, Sweetheart,” my mother said. The wine glass was gone. Her eyes looked clear. She seemed steady and alert. “Your father has taken something from our family.”

  “Mother, I know. We will survive.”

  “You don’t understand. I don’t mean our family, me, you, and your brother. I mean our family--the Suarez side.”

  “Dad took something that belonged to Nana?”

  “Oh yes. Something of great value. Something of great power. He has no idea.” My mother straightened and raised her chin.

  “This sounds foreboding. What did he sell?”

  “Do you remember that obsidian disk that I had hanging on the wall in the den, across from the windows?”

  “That flat black thing? I never knew what it was. I always thought it was some kind of weird art piece.”

  “It was a mirror, Sweetie, and it belonged to my grandmother, Mariana.”

  “So, Dad sold a mirror.”

  “I wish it were that simple.”

  Johnny strolled into the room. His slicked-back black hair topped his sleek and shiny f
ace. His white long-sleeved Arrow shirt and black jeans snapped with crispness. “What are you guys talking about?” he said.

  “Dad sold something that belonged to Nana,” I said.

  “Man needs to be turned upside down and shaken. But not by me, I’m afraid. I’m late for my date.” He was out the door.

  I slid up to the edge of the cushion and turned to my mother. I smelled the lavender and vanilla air freshener she installed in the living room. She had not totally given up hope. “What do we do? Do we try to get the mirror back from Dad?” I said.

  “I don’t know that he has it. He sent me a message saying he sold everything a week ago.”

  “What’s the problem with the mirror? Why is that so important? Nana’s passed. And your grandmother, and my great-grandmother, are gone. That’s ancient history. Why is this object such a great loss, as you say?”

  “Mariana was a bruja. Do you know what that is?”

  “A bruja is a witch.”

  “The English word is so loaded. ‘Witch’ is not something she ever called herself. Nor did anyone who knew her powers. She practiced folk magic. In fact, the women in my family practiced folk magic for generations. My mother finally broke the chain.”

  “As did you.”

  “Yes. And me.

  “How does this mirror fit into the magic?”

  “Mariana called up some very powerful energy in the mirror. You might call it a spirit. His name was Jose Maria.”

  “How do you know about all this?”

  “My mother told me the history when she gave me the mirror.”

  “Why did she give you the mirror, or even have it herself, if you two didn’t practice folk magic?”

  “That mirror has been in the Suarez family for hundreds of years, Jules. When Mariana left Tabasco, Mexico for El Paso, she took it with her. Before she died, she wanted to make sure it stayed in the family, that it was safe and the powerful spirit of the mirror did not fall into the wrong hands.”

  “Is this Jose Maria a good or bad spirit?”

  “It depends on the intent,” my mother said. “Mariana’s intention was always to help the people in her village. Jose Maria was her ally.”

  “And you think Dad has evil intent. And that could get him in trouble with Jose Maria.”

  “Gordon is a greedy narcissist. There are consequences to that kind of attitude and behavior.”

  “What do we do?”

  “Talk to your father. Ask him if he has the mirror, or knows who bought it.”

  “You’re putting me in the middle again, Mom,” I said.

  “For the good of all of us, Jules, find the mirror. Bring it back home.”

  I sat on the couch. Outside the window, a truck’s air horn blared on the I-Five freeway across the street. “Do you realize how much work I have in school? The SAT is coming up.”

  “I wish the timing were better, but I know you can handle it. You always do.” She turned our hands over and drew her fingertips across my palm.

  “Johnny and I will go see Dad.”

  “Thank you, Honey,” my mother said. She stood, leaned over to kiss the top of my head, and left the room. I grabbed my phone off the kitchen counter and headed to my bedroom to call Thuy. Then, I remembered that she was out with my brother. It was too late. I would have to tackle the math on my own.

  Not ten minutes after I left a message on my father’s answer machine did his secretary, Ellie Mills, call back. “Your father is at the gold exchange in North Hollywood.”

  “What, he’s King Midas now?”

  “Might as well be. The business is going crazy. He’s sold eleven properties in two weeks. Now he wants to buy gold bullion.”

  I asked her if I could come over. She didn’t ask why and I didn’t tell her that I wanted to look around his place to see if the mirror was there. It appeared that Gordon had met Jose Maria.

  When my parents separated and my father moved out of our family home on North Screenland Drive in Burbank, he rented a luxury condo, five miles away in Hollywood. He sold high-end commercial and residential real estate, so he found himself a penthouse bachelor pad. The money he spent living like a playboy came out of what he could have given my mother to help us get by while they were separated. He wanted her to go to work before their court date to determine his child support and alimony obligations. When I told him that I needed a new tablet for school, he said, “Tell your mother to get a job.”

  Johnny pulled his car to the curb in front Dad’s condo building at 1514 Vine Street. I should say Thuy’s car. My brother drove our old family Camry until the tires went flat. He couldn’t afford to buy new ones. He probably couldn’t afford to keep gas in it. Johnny made minimum wage at Bright Bubbles Laundry Land and gave part of his salary to Mom. He also was paying a lawyer to get him out of a charge for car theft, which he swore was a misunderstanding between him, his best friend, Nick, and Nick’s uncle.

  “This is where the Old Man’s crib is? Dude, this is criminal, considering where he’s making us live,” Johnny said, twisting his head around to look at the neighborhood. “Sunset Boulevard one block that way and Hollywood Boulevard two blocks that way. This is sick.”

  I pushed my shoulder into the car door and got out. Johnny came around to the sidewalk from the street.

  “The point here is to find out what happened to Nana’s mirror. And find out what the hell is going on with Dad. I have a sense the two are related.”

  “Want my two cents?” Johnny said.


  “If it’s no good we’re talking about, the Old Man is up to it.”

  “I fear the same, Older Brother.”

  At the reception desk in the lobby of Dad’s building, I told the security guy that we were Gordon Laigle’s sons, and that his secretary was expecting us. He phoned up and pointed us to the elevator.

  Johnny and I exited at the tenth floor, penthouse level. A short, brightly lit, white-shag-carpeted, white-walled hallway led to the door to Suite One Zero Zero Seven.

  I pushed the suite’s doorbell button. Johnny drummed his fingertips on the wall and the door swung open.

  Ellie Mills stood, wringing her hands, her face pinched in a pained expression. I was shocked by the size of the bags under her tired hazel eyes. She had been my father’s assistant since about the time I started to walk.

  “Your father has been crazy the past couple of weeks. He’s working twenty-four hours a day,” she said, walking ahead of us into the spacious, sun-drenched living room.

  I could see the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. out in the hazy distance. I glanced around the living room for the black disk.

  Johnny put his mouth to my ear. “How can she tell when he’s acting crazy?” he whispered.


  My brother and I sat on the charcoal gray sectional, across from the wall of windows and an eighty-inch flat screen on a stand on the floor. A large white plastic, steel and glass coffee table in front of us was the only other piece of furniture in the room. My father had sold everything out of our home, so he was starting clean and fresh. When my mom, Johnny and I moved into the duplex on Buena Vista Street in Burbank across from Interstate Five, we bought

  furniture from a thrift store. My brother and I picked out a couch, which the label called a “Texas Ranch Leather Bunkhouse sofa.” It had four worn brown leather cushions and actual brown and white calfskin sewn into the back cushions and the front of the arms. It came with two calf-skin throw pillows. My mother agreed to it only because we harangued her and it was the cheapest couch in the store. She said she could care less what we put in the place.

  The duplex had one bedroom, with twin beds, where Johnny and I slept. My mother slept on a ratty spare twin mattress that we dragged from our room into the living room each night. We joked that while she slept, a thousand cockroaches hoisted her up on their shoulders, sang work chants, and carried her a
round the room, as if she were a queen on her royal palanquin. “Yo, ho, heaaaave, ho. Yo, ho, heaaaave, ho.”

  “Ellie, my mother said Dad sold all their stuff out of their storage unit about a couple weeks ago. Do know about that?”

  “Of course. He had me make an inventory list.”

  “Do you have a copy of the list?”

  “Let me check in his office. I filed it.” She took two steps and turned back. “Can I get you boys some water? I even have some sodas in the mini-frig.”

  “No, thanks.” I said, watching Johnny shake his head while he swallowed and licked his lips.

  “If you’re thirsty, why don’t you let her bring you something to drink?” I said when Ellie left the room.

  “I don’t want to get all involved in a drink. I don’t want to be here if the Old Man comes back,” he said.

  “Mi Hermano, that is why we are here. To surveil, intercept and retrieve.”

  “Here’s the list.” Ellie waved a fistful of pages in front of her as she came back in the room.

  I glanced down the items on the list. Our entire house was there, the refrigerator, the television, the dining room table, my bed and dresser set, the barbeque, even my bike and old aquarium. My whole physical environment since I was a baby, sold to the highest bidder, without a moment of reflection or remorse. I shook my head and focused on the bottom of the list. No disk. “My mother mentioned one particular item that I do not see here. Did you inventory the stuff yourself, Ellie?”

  “What do you think? What is it that you’re missing?”

  “It was a mirror. A black obsidian disk. Looks like a round smooth shiny piece of rock, about so big.” I brought my hands up into a circle in front of my chest, the size of a basketball.

  “Your father took that himself. He will not let it out of his sight. He carries it with him.”

  “Has he shown it to you or told you anything about it?”

  “He said it’s bringing him good luck. That’s all I know. He said it came from your mother’s side of the family. He thinks there is some kind of magic in the mirror.”

  “What do you think?” I said.

  “If the mirror is magical, why is it causing him so much misery?”

  “Like what?”

  “He is exhausted. He has not slept a wink in weeks, Jules. He said he has forgotten how to drop off to sleep. Can you imagine? He’s on the edge of collapse and he keeps pushing.”

  I stood. “We have to find him. Dad’s luck is not as good as he thinks. And my mother wants her mirror back.”

  “You’re welcome to wait here. I have no idea when he might return. He has not been around much since he’s been so busy.”

  “I think we’ll drive over to North Hollywood, if you can give us the address of the gold exchange.”

  I sat across the table from Johnny in a booth at Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset, as he drained a glass of ice water in one draught. He put his glass down and gasped for air. “So what is it with this disk you’re talking about?” he said.

  “Mom says it has some kind of
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