I turned to see Sideburns, looking a little roughed up but as short, squat, and fiery as before, in white pants and a red jacket. He still had the brass knuckles on his left hand.
“That’s a pansy-ass outfit,” I said. Last time I’d been anxious and in a hurry. Today, I had nothing to lose.
“I want my gun.”
I held up my hands. “Sorry, not on me.”
He grinned beneath a heavy mustache. “That’s what I like to hear.”
And that’s when he pulled out a beat-up black Glock.
Rosa would come out any second. I had to shut this down. “You sure have a lot of those lying around.” I leaned against the wall as if I couldn’t give a shit about anything.
Sideburns passed the gun from hand to hand. “I ought to plug you, but I tell you what. Hand over that ride, and we’ll call it square.”
The fact that he hadn’t shot me already meant that either he wasn’t locked and loaded, or else he had a reason to believe he couldn’t get away with it at this moment. Maybe too many cops around, not that I had any faith in the law enforcement in Zona Norte.
“Let’s take a look at it, see if it meets your high standards.” I pushed away from the wall and backed up to the bike.
Sideburns narrowed his eyes, and I gave him reason to be very nervous as I ran my hand along the leather saddlebag. He was assuming the gun was in there, and now I was close to it.
Still, he didn’t pop me when he could. Something was holding him back.
“Built it myself,” I said.
He took only one step when I charged. How stupid could he be, when I shut him down so handily a couple weeks ago? I brought him to the ground, and a sharp crack of my elbow against his wrist forced him to drop the Glock.
Rosa stepped out right then and screamed.
This made Sideburns go manic, kicking and punching at me like a tornado. The boy definitely had something to hide.
I delivered a bone-crushing blow to his jaw to slow him down and pinned his chest with my knee. Rosa, to her credit, calmed down instantly and went for the gun. I could see she knew her way around a weapon, so I jumped off Sideburns and let him stand as she aimed the Glock at his head.
“Puta,” he spat at her.
“Su madre es puta,” she said.
“Ay yi yi.” Sideburns held out his hand to receive his gun back.
“Don’t give it to him,” I told Rosa. “It has your prints.”
She shook her head at me as she pushed the release and deftly snatched the magazine in her left hand. She tossed it my direction, and I caught it.
I was about to remind her of the round in the chamber when she jerked the slide and cupped the last bullet in her hand. She threw the gun at Sideburns’s face.
He backed up and trapped it against his chest before it could fall and hit the ground.
“Vamanos,” Rosa said and pushed me toward the Harley.
I swung my leg over and waited for her to settle behind me, shoving the magazine in my jacket. The engine noise was deafening in the covered space. I turned around and passed Sideburns. I’d had just about enough of Tijuana.
We only went a few blocks before Rosa leaned forward and shouted, “Turn aqui,” and pointed down another, larger street. We followed it for a long while, then she tapped my shoulder. “Stop.”
I pulled up beside a rundown pickup parked by a line of cinder-block buildings that looked occupied. My heart hammered since this might be where the boy lived, beating harder than it had during the fight. Rosa jumped off the back, came around, and punched me in the chest.
“What?” I asked.
“You cabron! You idiot!” She was hysterical now, crying and screaming.
I grabbed her and pulled her against my chest. “Hey, hey, we’re okay. We’re fine.”
Rosa kept hitting me, the blows getting less and less energetic, until she finally settled down.
“Do you know that guy?” I asked.
“¡Por supuesto! Of course! Everybody knows Antonio. Big jerk. Big asshole.”
I’d never heard Rosa curse or even be upset. I guess in the context of how we saw each other, it didn’t come up. “Will he bother you?”
“No. He will not admit a woman hold his gun.”
“I had a fight with him before.”
She pulled away and looked up at me. “Everybody fights with Antonio. It is his way. He thinks he owns our street.”
I let go of her. “Rosa, what is going on?”
She looked past me at the houses, and I felt certain he had to be in one of them.
“Is the boy here?”
Rosa looked at me questioningly, then shook her head. “No, Manuelito is with my cousin in Ensenada. This is where I used to live.”
I turned back to the crumbling facades. Gray blocks kept the dirt from cascading down the slopes that the structures seemed to spring from like caves. Scattered cars were parked half on the road, half in the dirt and debris. Rambling steps thrown together with wood scraps led to doors.
“Are we going to see your family?”
Rosa kicked at the dirt. “No. No family here. I just know what is safe here and what is not.”
I got off the bike and pulled her over to the pickup so we could sit on the edge of the rusted-out bed. “Let’s start at the beginning.”
Rosa ran her hands up and down the legs of her jeans. I had never seen her dressed so simply, a plain blue T-shirt and worn-out windbreaker. Her hair was pulled back in a long black ponytail. She seemed younger in this outfit than in the getups she usually wore for me — lacy skirts and cinched-up tops.