I mentioned in the preceding excerpt I posted, “Fogg and Thalcave,” that the story featuring these two characters from Jules Verne would vie with another story to be completed after I wrap up Space Detective. Today’s excerpt is from that competing story.
Two Monsters is the follow-up story to Three Witches, an action-oriented tale featuring El Tigre Azul, a famous luchador (a masked Mexican wrestler) who battles crime when he’s not flogging another combatant inside the ring. El Tigre’s adventures are inspired by the many masked Mexican wrestler films that were translated for the U.S. drive-in crowd during the 1960s and ‘70s. But I also find inspiration in the spirited creativity displayed in the low-budget independent films from the 1970s, when non-Hollywood filmmakers -- those outside the studio system -- like Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, Ron Howard, Dennis Hopper, and others -- made films that had an idiosyncratic stamp, like the French New Wave. There’s a spontaneity and unexpected wackiness you encounter when watching these films that I’ve tried to capture in these luchadore stories.
Two Monsters starts up not long after the end of Three Witches. Again, El Tigre Azul is the primary character. Some folks from Three Witches will appear again, but readers also will encounter new characters and situations.
The old woman stood in a corner of the room. Her white hair was pulled back into a bun that was contained in a straining hair net. The skin of her face appeared papery dry, and her face was scored by wrinkles that radiated from the point where the top of her nose met the deeper frown line between her brows. Her eyes were hidden behind overlapping folds of skin that formed her lids. And despite the presence of the frown line above the old woman’s nose, a wide smile curled the wrinkles that crossed her cheeks.
Once she smiled and revealed a single tooth within her mouth.
The smile appeared after a piece of crockery sailed over her head and smashed to clatters against the wall at her back.
She didn’t dodge an inch. Just stood there, leaning on a slender, tough cane she gripped tightly with both hands. The frayed cuffs of her sweater were bunched at her wrists as she leaned forward, and only her knuckles were visible, white against the black wood of the cane.
The sweater was pink. It hung down over the top of a black skirt that reached the floor and hid her feet. A small cloud of white flour marked the skirt.
The old woman showed her tooth again. She was watching four men battle in the center of the broad room. The tooth appeared whenever one of the men groaned or swore during the fight.
Tables were overturned and chairs lay in broken bits around the battlers. Their suit coats were ripped and the silk linings flapped like tattered flags in the wind when one or another of the fighters swung and smashed against the others.
One of the men was bigger than the others. He wore a mask, blue with black stripes: El Tigre Azul.
A zigzag of blood ran from his left nostril to his chin.
He staggered to his feet. One of his assailants had hit him across the collar bone with a chair leg.
El Tigre snagged the shirt collar of the man with the chair leg. He smashed his right fist four times against the man’s face, rapidfire. The man dropped the chair leg as bright red gouted from his nose, splattered the floor. He sat down in the red spatters, fell forward in a groaning daze beside his forgotten weapon.
El Tigre ducked as a second attacker swung a still-unbroken chair from behind. The wrestler grabbed the chair leg from the floor, spun with his left leg extended and tripped the Chair Man. The latter stumbled, and El Tigre was up, clacking his makeshift baton against the fellow’s skull and jaw. The man tried to fend off these blows with the chair, but the stick in El Tigre’s hand was like a striking snake, evading every effort to thwart its thrusts.
Finally, the chair grew too heavy, the man’s arms dropped, his hands released the chair, and it spun on the floor.
The man’s eyes were swelling shut. He stepped back twice, then collapsed to the floor like a dropped bag of potatoes.
El Tigre looked at the third attacker. He had been out of it a few minutes. He leaned against the counter; rather, his back was to the counter, his elbows were hitched up onto its top, and he seemed to be suspended there. His feet were splayed out before him, the heels of his shoes against the floor, the toes pointing to the ceiling. A string of drool hung down from his gaping mouth to his hairy chest, exposed by the buttons that had popped off his shirt during the fight. His eyes were open, but didn’t appear focused.
El Tigre stood up from his crouch, breathed deeply several times, then turned to look at the old woman grinning her one-tooth grin in the room’s corner.
The wrestler was not grinning in response. “Satisfied?”
Despite the ancient frown lines in the old woman’s face, she looked as if she hadn’t scolded a child in two generations. But she cackled like a hen, then said, “I haven’t been so happy since my daughter shot that idiot she married two days after the wedding.”
The pink sweater had more color than her flesh, as though her skin had absorbed the flour she worked with every day during the decades she had kneaded and baked. El Tigre couldn’t see her eyes, but he watched that tooth in her mouth. She might be the color of death, but her voice was lively with delight.
The wrestler heard something move behind him.
He turned, and the man who had been leaning against the counter had collected his wits and was charging, a knife raised in one fist.
A bloody gap appeared where the knife wielder’s jaw had been. He dropped his weapon and fell to the floor, and he thumped around there while he groaned.
El Tigre looked at the old woman. She held a small revolver she must have pulled from a sweater pocket. The smoke that curled up from the barrel mouth was not so pale as the baker’s face.
“Why didn’t you stop all this mess and show that thing earlier?” El Tigre demanded.
The tooth answered: “I’ve been waiting a long time to see those mierdas fritas get their asses kicked. I didn’t intend to miss it.”
El Tigre frowned. “Abuelita, if your customers knew their baker has such a tongue, they might think twice about buying your bread.”
“Pish. After baking for seventy years, bread is bland. It needs some spicing up.” She tapped the end of her cane on the floor. “I’m calling the policias.”
“Will I have to fight them, too?”
“If you don’t threaten them.”
“Why don’t you shove that gun under their noses?”
“Pish. I’d rather see a good fight.”
She tucked the gun back in her pocket.