He knew blood, and could see this man’s was different. Could see it in the way he filled the space, with no urgency and an all-knowing air, as though made of finer threads. Other blood. The man took a seat at a table and his attendants fanned out in a semicircle behind him.
Lobo admired him in the waning light of day that filtered in through a small window on the wall. He had never had these people close, but was sure he’d seen this scene before. The respect this man and his companions inspired in him had been set out somewhere, the sudden sense of importance he got on finding himself so close. He recognized the way the man sat, the lofty look, the glimmer. Then he saw the jewels that graced him and knew: he was a King.
The one time Lobo had gone to the pictures he saw a movie with a man like this: strong, sumptuous, dominating the things of the world. He was a King, and around him everything became meaningful. Men gave their lives for him, women gave birth for him; he protected and bestowed, and in the kingdom, through his grace, each and every subject had a precise place. But those accompanying this King were more than vassals. This was his Court.
Lobo felt envy, the bad kind first and the good kind after, because suddenly he saw that this was the most important day of his life. Never before had he been near one of those who gave life meaning, made it all tally up. Never even had the hope. Ever since his parents had brought him here from who knows where and then abandoned him to his fate, life had been a counting off of days of dust and sun.
A voice thick with phlegm distracted his gaze from the King: a drunk, ordering him to sing. Lobo complied, effortlessly at first, still trembling with excitement; but soon, from the same, he sang like never before, pulling words out from inside as though pronouncing them for the first time, as though overcome by the ecstasy of having happened upon them. He felt the King’s eyes on his back and the cantina fall silent; people put their dominoes facedown on tables to listen. He sang a song and the drunk demanded Another and then Another and Another and Another, and with each one Lobo sang more inspired, and the drunk got more drunk. At times he joined in, at times he spat into the sawdust and laughed with the old soak there with him. Finally he said, Okay, and Lobo held out his hand. The drunk paid and Lobo saw it was short and held out his hand once more.
“That’s it, songbird. What I got left is for one more shot. Just thank your saints you got that much.”
Lobo was used to it. These things happened. And he was about to turn away in What Can You Do resignation, when he heard from behind:
“Pay the artist.”
Lobo turned to see the King holding the drunk in his gaze. He said it calm. It was a simple order, but the man didn’t know enough to stop.
“What artist?” he said. “Only thing I see here is this fool and I already paid him.”
“Don’t get smart, friend,” the King’s voice hardened. “Pay him and shut it.”
The drunk got up and staggered to the King’s table. His men went on alert, but the King sat unflustered. The drunk struggled to focus and then said:
“I know you. I heard what they say.”
“That a fact? And what do they say?”
The drunk laughed. Clumsily scratched a cheek.
“Nah. Not your business I’m talking about, everybody knows that . . . Talking about the other.”
And he laughed once more.
The King’s face clouded. He tilted his head back, got up. Signaled his entourage to stay put. Approached the drunk and grabbed his chin. The man tried to twist free: no luck. The King put his lips to the drunk’s ear and said:
“Actually, I don’t think you heard a thing. You know why? Because dead men have very poor hearing.”
The King put his gun to him as though feeling the man’s gut, and fired. A simple shot. Nonchalant. The drunk opened his eyes wide, tried to steady himself on a table, slipped and fell. The King turned to the boozer with him.
“You got something to say too?”
The man snatched his hat and fled, hands high in a Didn’t See A Thing. The King bent over the corpse, rifled through a pocket, pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled off a few, handed them to Lobo, replaced the rest.
“Artist, take your due,” he said.
Lobo took the bills without looking down. He was staring at the King, drinking him in. And kept watching as the King signaled his crew and they filed slowly out of the cantina. Lobo gazed at the swinging doors. And thought that from now on there was a new reason why calendars were senseless: no date meant a thing besides this one. Because finally he’d found his place in the world. And because he’d heard something about a secret, which he damn well wanted to keep.