One Friday night, after prayers and the Shabbat Shaloms had ended, Abie sat down at the dinner table with his parents. He was sipping the hamad soup, when he asked his father: “Can your little songbird still sing?”
Don Samuel dropped his spoon into the bowl. He was eighty-years old, mummified by blindness, a prayer shawl and phylacteries and had no use for such irreverence. He glared at his son through stony mother-of-pearl eyes and barked Din el kalb—you have a dog’s religion.
Abie raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. He pinched his mother’s blubbery arm next to him and said: “Your husband curses me as if I’m an Arab!”
Doña Sofia pulled her arm away, holding back a smile. She wondered why he, of her five children, had turned out so devilish: the others were good boys, but twice-divorced Abie had been in jail in California, Guatemala, and Mexico, and at 37—with two sons in Mexico City—was completely unreliable. Nothing but the inflated image of his own genius was sacred to him. He believed that no matter what mess he was in, he would slip through, come out on top, grinning.
When Doña Sofia confided her disappointment to her sister-in-law at the synagogue the following morning, Raquel had scrunched her jowls and clucked: “Always a rotten egg in the basket.” She was an authority, having a lawyer and a doctor son.
“Life was too easy for him,” Doña Sofia had answered. She recalled the many hungry years in Guatemala. By the time Abie had been born, the Eltalephs had a tile roof, meat on the table. Still he would steal what he could buy and engineer pranks on his brothers. But as he was named after his paternal grandfather, Abie somehow missed out whenever Don Samuel meted out punishment. While his brothers cried over their welts, he swaggered behind his father’s back imitating him; if he turned around, Abie’s eyes would suddenly run wet with tears.
The Eltalephs had begun modestly with a furniture store. Then they formed a distributorship of Japanese electronics. By the mid-sixties, they had built a small empire in packaging: plastics, cardboard, and glass. All the brothers except for Abie–who insisted he would make his own fortune–worked together, each in charge of operations in a different Central American country. It was Don Samuel’s dying wish in 1965 that Abie be brought into the family business. Aaron invited him to visit his office.” Our father insisted you join us,” he said. He was the eldest son and Company president. Abie’s smile spread over his face. “Nicely put, brother.”
“I won’t deny that I’m against it.”
“Well, Aaron, I do admire your bluntness.” Aaron’s temples pounded. He felt old, jaundiced, saddled with responsibility especially when measured against Abie’s twinkling eyes. Age and temperament divided them. Aaron had married young, sired six children, assumed responsibility for his family, his parents, his in-laws, in fact, the whole Guatemalan Jewish community; Abie, on the other hand, lived only for himself. “We’re putting you in charge of the furniture store. You’ll draw 300 quetzales a month.” “No commission?” “You get 10% on sales over $5000 in sales per month.”
Abie cleaned his teeth with a silver toothpick he had hustled up on the Los Angeles streets. Then he poked the toothpick in the air as if pressing some numbers on a calculator. “I don’t know, Aaron. I have a big family to support. $400 quetzales a month and 20% sound more brotherly to me.”
Aaron hated this haggling, should’ve anticipated that Abie would try to one-up his generous offer. Family to support! The children were lucky if their names were remembered! “That’s nearly double what we paid Isaac before sending him to Costa Rica.”
“But I’m not Isaac,” Abie replied, wiping the toothpick on a white doily on Aaron’s desk. You sure as hell aren’t, Aaron had wanted to say. But he needed to stay calm, not let his brother’s arrogance unhinge him. “You win, Abie. But I’ll be a hawk looking over your books.” “Bring a magnifying glass if you want,” his brother chuckled.
Not surprisingly, Abie did well. If he had a talent, it was that he could sell anything to anyone: porn to a priest, whiskey to a teetotaler. On the furniture store floor, he was a skilled salesman: charming old widows, beefing up indecisive clerks planning to spend half as much on a bedroom ensemble and, of course, flirting with any female under sixty. Aaron kept waiting for Abie to foul up, but the monthly figures looked good and the cash balance proved it.
The brothers once almost came to blows, but it was over something personal. Aaron’s wife Lonia had dropped off Francisco, their 13 year old son, at the furniture store while she visited the dentist around the corner. Abie had taken Francisco with him to the furniture factory on 17th Street, where cheap whores peddled themselves on the sidewalks. After dropping off orders with the foreman, Abie asked his nephew if he wanted to get his tool sharpened. Francisco hadn’t understood so Abie pulled out his thick penis right on the street and said: “You know, make the girls cry.”
Francisco reported this to his father. “Leave my boy alone,” Aaron boomed. Abie pulled down on the edges of his mustache. “He’s old enough.”
“I’ll decide that. Not you.”
“How times have changed,” Abie sighed.
“What do you mean?”
“It can’t be that you’ve forgotten?”
“Forgotten what?” But the rush of blood had already turned Aaron’s face red.
“You were the one who introduced me to La Locha.”
“Those were different times,” Aaron said weakly. “Aha,” replied Abie.
“We were all much more mature.” Abie knew when to attack, and when to be gracious. “You were a model to your younger brothers.” Aaron burned inside. Abie was off the hook, at least for the moment.
In 1967, the Company held its annual board meeting at the Ritz Continental in Guatemala City. Gross revenues were bounding up; it was decided that a sales office would be opened in Honduras. Many names were proposed for the directorship; Abie’s among them. “Running a furniture store with me looking over his shoulder is one thing,” Aaron said, “but to give him free rein in San Pedro Sula is asking for trouble.”
“He’s 39, a grown man,” said Isaac. “You’ve forgotten his messes. Jailed in Puerto Barrios for swindling the mayor’s brother, shot in the leg by Paco for screwing his wife. Need I tell you what he did in California?” “We know the details,” said David, the Company’s financial officer. Having hustled in pool rooms with Abie, he had a soft spot for his brother. “I think we should show our confidence in him.” “We can’t risk the Eltaleph name.”
“Who do you suggest, then?”
“Let’s send Mena. Or that Englishman Leonard. He’s one for moving around!” Aaron said, impatiently. “Mena won’t leave Guatemala. His daughter’s being treated for meningitis,” David answered. “And frankly, I need Leonard’s technical expertise in San Salvador. We should put grudges aside, Aaron, and give Abie a chance.”
“Yes, echoed Isaac. He was happy in San José. Recently married; golf courses everywhere. Why should he give up a temperate climate to go to a country where even the bed sheets sweated? “Abie has matured. He’s remarried.”
“Yes, for the third time,” Aaron mocked. “You can’t trust a man who at his wedding–his wife five months pregnant–goes around touching the buttocks of his best friends’ wives.” David webbed his hands on the table. “You’re against it?”
“Three hundred percent,” Aaron said.
“Isaac?” “I’d give him a chance.” “It’s not your money!”
“Aaron, it’s all our money.” David intervened. “And it would’ve made our old man happy to hear of our trust.”
“We’ve never let emotions get in the way of business. I’m warning you,” Aaron persisted.
But he was outvoted. Leopold Glanz, the husband of their sister Esther, was given control of the furniture store. Several weeks later, Abie buoyantly drove his pregnant wife Zoila to San Pedro Sula in their green, finned 1961 Cadillac.
When Abie Eltaleph had lived in Los Angeles, selling Tijuana-made Persian rugs, he knew that only a handful of people in Hollywood Hills had as much smarts as him. But he got pinched when one customer, having purchased three phony rugs, reported him to the police. Five months in the can, and Abie still had the gall to tell the immigration official deporting him that he would be back next week. But some other scheme in Mexico distracted him and he never made good on his boast to return; if he had, Abie was sure, he would now be the Prince of L.A. If Guatemala was boring, the owls fell asleep at nine P.M. in Honduras. San Pedro Sula was an all-business town: sober, conservative. Abie went ahead and opened an office on the second floor of a 1920s colonial style building overlooking the central square; he assembled his office staff, met with prospective clients, made sales pitches. Life poked along and within the month, he had frequented all of San Pedro Sula’s brothels. To scratch his itch, he would leave work early, race his Cadillac to Puerto Cortéz on the Caribbean and devote an entire evening to sharpening his tool at the five dollar elevated whorehouses at the edge of the harbor. When David came to visit a month later, Abie was prepared. He complained about the difficulty of doing business in Honduras as he drove his brother from the airport—an expanded air force hangar, really—to the Company office. “You don’t have to tell me,” David said. “I lived here for a year as a Hitachi representative back in 1951.” “Oh, it’s changed, some. Still the big event is the Sunday soccer game at the Central Stadium.”
“That should give you plenty of time to build up business.”
“I do my best. I’ve done well—thanks to the Lebanese community.”
“Really?” “Yes, they think I’m one of them because I speak Arabic better than they do!”
“You’re deceiving them?”
Abie smiled. “Not really. Let’s just say that I have their confidence. Don’t worry so much, brother. They like me. Hondurans are, on the whole, a lazy lot, and this country is full of savers. They lack entrepreneurial spirit. They don’t know that when you bring a new product to market, you need to promote it to establish a ripple effect. Without risk, no profits. The money’s here. You just have to find a way to convince people to spend it.”
“And you’ve find a way to do that?” David asked, nervously.
Abie drove slowly, to stay calm. “Well, brother, you know I’m always open to suggestions.”
At the office David was bowled over. If the books were in order, the Company was good for nearly $100,000 worth of sales in the next month. And with a 5% month to month growth, the Company could gross over two million dollars in the first year alone.
“How did you do it?”
Abie leaned back in his office chaise, propped his feet on a hassock given to him by Daniel Monegal, a Lebanese friend. “I spin a good story about increased investment and the multiplier effect. I tell them that by next year the Central American Common Market will be a reality and the OAS will build its headquarters in Tegucigalpa—”
“That’s a lie,” David said.
“Last month Time mentioned the possibility—”
“Along with eight other sites!”
“So I leave out the other seven. It’s no big deal. A kind of bluff. Like when we hustled in the pool halls.”
“This is different, Abie. We’re in business.”
“Perhaps,” he said, nodding his head back and forth, as if considering that honesty might suffice.
Troubled, but realizing there was little else to be said, David dropped the subject. He met the office staff, lunched with Abie and Zoila, and received a kiss on the cheek from a thick whiskered friend of Abie’s before boarding the afternoon flight back to San Salvador.
The whiskered friend was Daniel Monegal, a Lebanese merchant who owned a small leather business in San Pedro. He had been married to a Somoza cousin in Nicaragua—”all her money couldn’t disguise the fact that she was a hippo” and “six months in jail would’ve been better than living with her for one more day.” She refused to divorce him and when he started playing around openly, she got her cousin’s Guardia to confiscate his leather factory and throw him out of the country. He had pictures of his wife—a circus fat lady—and a closetful of cashmere suits that either proved he had been wealthy in Managua or was best friends with a tailor.
Tuesdays and Thursdays Abie and Daniel would lunch together, and then adjourn to their favorite brothel behind the butcher shops of the Central Market. They made an afternoon of it at María’s, drinking high balls, telling racy jokes, pawing the girls—sixteen year olds from the Caribbean—before discharging their sperm. They praised each other’s humor and wit, swearing that fate had brought them together. Both eagerly played down their business skills and they avoided competing for the same prostitute. From afar, their friendship was a slow tango, carefully stepped.
One Thursday, several weeks after they had met, they lunched at Las Delicias Del Mar. “We should go into business together,” said Daniel, lifting the grate of bones from his baked red snapper. “With your entrepreneurial skills and my connections, we would do quite well.” Abie savored his tenderloin. “Daniel, you flattery me too much,” he said, pointing to his friend with his fork. “You’re the genius!”
Daniel threw up his hands in false modesty. “You think too much of me. I believe we would work well together.” He motioned to the waiter. “I can’t eat with this skeleton on my plate.”
Abie agreed. “I only eat filets myself. The bones remind me of all the skinny women I’ve had and not enjoyed.”
“That must be it,” Daniel agreed. After the waiter left, he dabbed his lips with his napkin and was about to make a joke. Instead he said: “Abie, you wouldn’t know of anyone with some extra cash lying around, would you?”
“What’s on your mind, Daniel?”
“Well, if I could find someone to help me back some bank loans, I would turn my little shop into a genuine leather enterprise producing quality belts, wallets, handbags. You see, I’ve been given the option to buy the building next to my factory for $250,000 lempiras.” “$125,000 dollars,” whistled Abie, “that’s a lot of money.”
“Not really. Imagine a 2000 square meter space. Huge. With electric outlets, telephone lines, and bathrooms already installed. I could hire another 200 workers, net $25,000 lempiras a month. In less than a year the building would be paid off.”
“You’re a Rothschild,” teased Abie. “These are my accountant’s calculations. If I add 5 and 5, half the time I get 9. No, Abie, you give me too much credit. I’m a hard worker, I won’t deny that. Also, I can smell a good deal. If I had the money, I know what I’d do. I would even let my partner keep all the first year’s profits just for securing the loan!”
Abie’s mind was a virtual calculator and he put it to work as he ate. If Daniel had figured right—the accountant bit was a good ruse—he could clear $50,000 lempiras in the first year. Why should Abie be the middle man? He himself could finance the purchase by delaying transfer of funds to the Company account. David would understand the difficulty of getting Hondurans to pay half in advance, half on delivery, and he would have the cash Daniel said he needed. Then he could trickle the money to San Salvador, complain some more about the lack of native initiative, maybe arrange for a bank loan using the Company reputation as collateral. It would be fun, he could set himself up for life, to hell with working for the Eltalephs!
“And who would own this new business?”
“Do you know someone who would be interested?”
“Daniel, I enjoy,” Abie said, tapping his temple with his forefinger, “seeing how your mind works.”
Monegal nodded. “My partner would own 50% of the business. My expertise and, of course, my contacts with the building seller are worth the other 50%.”
“I’ll ask around.”
Daniel’s black eyes were flint-like. “But hurry. My option on the property runs out next week.”
That night, Abie drove over to Reforma and Dolores. Next door to Daniel Monegal’s Cueros de Managua was a stenciled sign stating that the property was for sale. Twenty lempiras convinced the caretaker to let Abie in for a quick peek. It was a fine space, just as Daniel had described it; what’s more, the building had half a dozen of skylights that would reduce the electricity costs. The following Tuesday, the friends met at the Fu Yen for lunch. Twirling lo mein on his fork, Abie asked: “So what did you decide to do about that building?”
“What building?” “The one next to your leather shop,” Abie almost said on Reforma and Dolores. “Oh, that. My option runs out on Friday.”
“I’ve had it for three weeks. Did you find me a partner?”
“Maybe,” Abie smiled. “But he insists on more of the profits.”
Monegal feigned disappointment. “That hardly makes it worthwhile. I would be foregoing most of my future profits. Who is this friend?”
Monegal arched his eyebrows and nodded. He tapped his spoon against the soup bowl and dropped it in. “Where would you get that kind of money, Abie?”
“Don’t worry about that. The Company’s name carries lots of weight in the financial community.”
“And you would be willing—”
“Yes. As I said—for seventy percent of the profits.”
Daniel pushed his soup bowl away. “For that, I might as well work alone.”
“Thirty percent of a million lempiras is still $150,000 dollars. Not bad, considering that I’m the one assuming all the financial risks,” Abie answered, using his silver toothpick to write numbers in the air.
Daniel lit a Viceroy, drew in deeply. He wrinkled his forehead as if wondering whether to bank his last $100 on red or black on a roulette wheel. His free hand nervously tapped the table; somehow he had gotten his brow to sweat. He put down his cigarette and extended his hand: “I wouldn’t agree to a deal like this with anyone but you.”
They shook hands. “There’s just one more thing. Daniel.”
“My involvement remains a secret. Not a word of this to Zoila.”
“You have my word.” They hugged each other and then adjourned to María’s to celebrate.
To show his good faith, Monegal mortgaged his business for $6000 lempiras, and gave the money over to Abie. This got him thinking that Daniel was more of a chump than he had imagined. Meanwhile, Abie was able to secure loans worth $200,000 lempiras from various banks by using the Company as collateral. The loans would cover the purchase of the building, renovations, and machinery. Five months after coming to Honduras, Abie Eltaleph handed over $150,000 lempiras to a Sergio Ortega as down payment for the building on Dolores and Reforma. The partnership was celebrated amidst $30 bottles of Dom Perignon. Neither Abie nor Daniel said a word of this to Zoila, who was now nursing a one month old daughter, Ana Cristina. And certainly nothing was said to Abie’s brothers. Within the month, the factory would be open and for the first year, each lempira above expenses would be Abie’s. Wars are hardly ever convenient for anyone other than mercenaries, politicians, gun runners and weapon manufacturers, but the Soccer War of 1967 between El Salvador and Honduras came in the nick of time to save Abie, or so it seemed. No, the hostilities didn’t soar the demand for leather wallets or pocketbooks, but it explained why Company sales were down on a monthly basis and why it was increasingly difficult to collect from clients. Inventory began to pile up.
Truth was Daniel Monegal had vanished. The modest hotel on Independencia where he lived and took his morning and evening meals, had no idea where he had gone; he left one night, with his few things filling one leather suitcase. His suits? All rented from a tailor down the street. The building on Dolores and Reforma? Monegal had leased it for the month, true, for $1500 lempiras, but it had always belong to Leo Cueto who had never heard of a Sergio Ortega or any other Sergio for that matter. Monegal? Oh yes, he ran a little leather business next door, but Cueto had been trying to evict him for years for failing to pay rent. Monegal’s four employees had filed charges with the courts because they had not been paid for months.
The clincher was that Abie was barred from visiting María’s till he paid off Monegal’s outstanding debt!
So the soccer skirmish gave Abie three extra months to think; and that’s what he did, think, and whore. When that time was up, the bankers called Abie in. When he failed to come up with the cash or satisfy their needs for assurances of payment, they put him in prison and called his brother.
David Eltaleph flew over to meet the bankers. After two days of arduous negotiations, he was able to hammer out a deal to satisfy the bankers.
“I have some bad news,” David told Aaron and Isaac at an emergency Company board meeting.
“What could be worse than the border war?” Isaac said, stating the obvious. He wasn’t half as heartbroken as he sounded; with free time, he was able to play golf every day and had reduced his handicap by three strokes. “Honduras has banned Salvadoran products, and our trucks have no highway access to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.”
“I think David has something else in mind,” Aaron said, ominously.
“Well, there’s trouble in Honduras—”
“I knew it!” Aaron slammed down his fist.
“Abie has used the Company name to secure loans totaling over $100,000 for a private venture that—from what I’m able to conclude—failed before it got started.”
“I warned both of you! Abie’s a no-good, whorehopping thief. Thinking he’s always better than everyone else. For years he’s screwed others and now he’s screwed us!”
“Is all the loan money lost?” Isaac asked meekly.
David touched his ear. “From a practical standpoint, yes. We need to come up with the first repayment—plus accumulated interest—or we’ll default on the loan, which will lead to added penalties. And the Company’s reputation has been damaged.” “That serious?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And where is our crooked brother? Vacationing in Acapulco?” asked Aaron.
“No, he’s in jail.”
Aaron let out a bitter smile. “That’s the best part. Let him rot.” Then Aaron told his brothers what Abie had tried to do with Francisco. “You know that Lonia has always felt Abie couldn’t be trusted with a loaf of bread.”
“Well,” David finally said, “I’m flying back to San Pedro tomorrow. I suggest we pay off the principal and the interest all at once and chalk up the loss. No use delaying. We’ve always had cordial ties with the banks; I hope things don’t change because of this.”
“Keep the bastard in jail,” Aaron ordered. “I never want to see him again.”
“He’s still our brother,” Isaac said.
Aaron glared at him for a few seconds. “Not to me, not to me. Mark my words: from this day on, Abie Eltaleph has ceased to exist. He’s dead.”
The banks accepted David’s proposal and a few cash payments got Abie out of jail. From the start, he insisted on his innocence, claimed he had invested Company money legitimately.
“It didn’t work out. I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he told his brother.
“You nearly ruined us with your scheme.”
“You yourself told me to keep an eye out for investments.”
“You did more than look around.”
“You failed to get our authorization. For using Company funds for your own purposes you’ve been dismissed.”
“I did nothing wrong,” Abie countered. “You can’t just fire me. I’ll take you all to court!” The brothers argued back and forth. Abie even gushed real tears. David was unmoved.
Abie, Zoila and baby Ana Cristina resettled in Guadalajara. Every few months David got a desperate call from his brother—first, a proclamation of innocence, then tears for having been made a scapegoat, and finally a request for money—Ana Cristina was sick, his sons in Mexico City needed money for their schooling. He had been double-crossed by a couple of Mexicans and he was flat broke.
Without saying a word to Aaron, David would send him three hundred quetzales of his own money. And when Doña Sofia died three years later, David paid for Abie’s flight back to Guatemala for the funeral. He arrived too late for the burial—something about canceled flights—and Aaron refused to let his brother into his house during the seven days of sitting Shiva.
“I think we can afford, at a time like this, to be generous,” David tried to make peace.
“Not after what he did.”
Shut out of his brother’s house, Abie found comfort in the 17th Street whorehouses. There, he recited the litany of how his brothers had betrayed him to all the women he slept with, vowing to seek revenge one day.
A few months after Dona Sofia’s death, Zoila called David to say that Abie had suffered a near fatal heart attack, was laid up in a Guadalajara clinic. She needed money to transfer him to a hospital with better facilities. David considered flying there himself, to deliver the money personally to his ailing brother, but a voice, perhaps Aaron’s, warned him not to go. He wired $1000 instead.
Zoila’s follow-up call a week later revealed that Abie was still in intensive care, recuperating slowly, and would need another month in the hospital. David sent $1000 again.
Ten days later David flew to Mexico City to set up a Company sales office in the Colonia Roma. He considered flying up to Guadalajara on a Sunday, unannounced, to visit his ailing brother, but opted instead for a day at the Hippodrome.
It was one of those Sundays where, with the Mexico City factories rimming the city closed down, the winter sky was a spotless blue. David was walking toward the Club House when he saw, as if in a dream, Abie and a young boy selling something from a makeshift stand on the ramp. David stayed anchored, letting the crowd hurrying into the Club House flow by his sides. Abie’s assistant popped in and out of the crowd and, at one point, disappeared. Probably a pickpocket, David thought.
When the crowd had thinned, a bell sounded, signaling the closing of betting windows for the first race. David sidled up to his brother.
“I can see that you’re feeling better,” he said.
Abie jumped back. He puckered his face, but regained his composure. He was putting pocket calculators in a paper bag, but still managed to wrap his arms around his brother. He squeezed as tightly as he could, not wanting to let go. “What a surprise,” he sniffled.
“Yes, it is.”
“Did you come all this way to see me?”
“I’m here for a packaging convention,” David lied, not wanting to reveal his true reasons for being in Mexico City.
Abie called to his helper—a skinny teenager with only a wisp of a mustache—and ordered him to start packing the unsold gadgets.
“I sell these calculators just to make some extra money. Where are you staying?”
“At the Presidente,” David lied.
“You always did like a good hotel.”
David raised an eyebrow. He would not be tempted. “By the way, how’s the old ticker?”
Abie mopped his forehead with a handkerchief, and then tapped his chest. “It almost betrayed me, brother. The muscles weren’t pumping. I thought for sure you would all be coming for my funeral. For a few days it was…you know…” he fluttered a hand in the air.
“But you’ve recovered. Zoila said you couldn’t get out of bed.” Abie let out his old impish smile. “Oh, you know women, they’re all so dramatic. You faint and they call an ambulance. She spent every night sleeping at my side, holding my hand. She even got her priest to come and visit me, you know, to make sure I saw that my illness was punishment. She is such a Catholic!”
“She made it sound as if you’d be in the hospital for at least another month.”
Abie grew serious. “I’m not all that well. I can’t walk more than ten meters without losing my breath. Actually, I came to Mexico City—“
“To sell calculators?”
“Very funny. I wanted to see my sons. Also, I’m seeing a specialist who has invented a new technique—”
Abie eyed his brother. “No use wasting time between office visits.”
David shook his head. Abie, meanwhile, put his arm around the boy twining the small boxes together. The boy looked up, his eyes thin slits. “Solomon, I want you to meet your uncle.”
The boy straightened up. He left his arms hanging down his sides.
“I didn’t know—” David began, warily.
“Hug him!” Abie yelled, slapping the boy on the neck. “Not the one who cheated you!”
Far in the distance hoots could be heard, drowning out the name of the first race winner. Abie wiped his forehead again, then used his thumb and forefinger to pinch his son’s shoulder. “You know I don’t like that kind of language. Besides, David is not the one. He and I only have little misunderstandings—like most brothers.” He turned toward David. “What do you expect from boys raised by Carmela? Ernesto won’t even talk to me. Solomon, too, at first, wouldn’t trust me. His own father. But look, a few months together, and we’re a team.”
David was about to ask what kind of a team. He realized he would only end up arguing with his brother, further alienating his nephew. He wondered what was the point of growing up, if people never changed: here again was his eight-year old brother Abie, claiming he hadn’t eaten the espumillas though sugar crystals lined his upper lip.
A bugle sounded; the horses were on the track for the second race. In twenty minutes the betting windows would close.
“Goodbye, Abie, give my best to Zoila.” David looked at Solomon, a kind of mirror image of Abie, tensely still. “He’s a good-looking boy.”
“Wait, David,” Abie gripped his brother’s arm. “Stay with us.”
“I came here for an afternoon of fun,” he said, stepping away.
His brother came after him. “What’s the rush? We’ll go with you into the Club House and then back to your hotel to celebrate.”
“No more, Abie—”
“I’ll go in with you. I love gambling. Solomon can wait for us out here—”
“Stay with your son,” said David, not looking back, going up the ramp. His name was being called, words rang out, but he only heard a muffled roar. Had he missed the second race? When he reached the Club House entrance, he paid the 20 peso fee and then felt something being jammed into his hand.
David went in through the turnstile and turned around. Solomon was facing him, his hands in his pockets. Further back, Abie stood with the folding table and a brown paper bag.
David glanced down at the gray box in his palm. Opening it, he saw a black and gold calculator with a metal pencil. Probably broken or with the battery about to die. Like everything else in Abie’s life—a fraud, spoiled goods. He wondered why he was this way.
David tried to return the box over the turnstile, but Solomon backed away.
“I can’t take this, Solomon,” he said softly.
“Please keep it. My father said that it’s for you. Or for your wife, Aunt Blanca,” the words struggled out of the boy’s desperate face.
Solomon walked back down and joined his father. David shook his head. Poor Abie, family, love even desire could be negotiated. To him, everything had a price. Even when he slept, his mind was calculating.