Blondie’s not here. Tuco’s just about sober enough to know that much.
He hasn’t seen his partner for a year, or heard a word from him in months, but that doesn’t stop him needing the only person who’d understand what’s wrong with him tonight. Instinctively he reaches for the Duluth, before remembering it’s not here. It’s parked in a storage locker halfway across town, part of this whole attempt to pass. It should have worked.
It is working; he has somewhere to sleep at night, he’s fed, nobody wants to arrest him for anything. He’d even picked up a girlfriend along the way, a waitress at the hotel where he washes dishes. Katie’s tall, too tall for him, and redheads aren’t his preferred flavour but she’s a better class of woman than he’s ever dared for before. Any man would count himself lucky to have her.
He’s shaking. The prosecco’s left a sour aftertaste in his mouth, and he wonders vaguely about pouring himself a glass of water, but moving off this bed seems more effort than he’s able to muster. It takes as much as he can handle, just to dig a pen out of the bedside table drawer and start rummaging for a paper to write on. Something to do right this minute, that he can transfer to a post card when he’s sobered up a little.
“Dear Blondie,” Tuco says aloud. It’s taken him several moments to remember that’s how you start these things, and he doesn’t want to forget before he starts writing it down.
The drawer’s neat, organised, not like he lives here at all (he doesn’t, it’s just somewhere he’s been renting). Bible. Keepsake earring, Katie had laughingly let him have that after losing the other one on a sight-seeing expedition into the bayou. Several little pink packets, the saccharin she’s always coaxing him to eat- healthier, she says. And you can’t taste the difference.
In his addled state, the notion of writing on those makes as much sense as anything; he rips one open, lets the small grains trickle down onto his tongue. Doesn’t help a bit, if he can’t be cheered up by straight sugar he’s more broken than he thought-
all that’s coming out of this pen are ink smears. Tuco throws it across the room, reaches for another one, realises he doesn’t have any others.
That’s it. He’s done. Forget hanging on until Blondie has a chance to reach him, forget staring at the Golfo de México until the soothing lap of the water and the stink of dead fish had driven him back to life- he just hurts so much and doesn’t know what could even bring him pleasure anymore-
(it’s not even the pain, it’s the flat-edged quality of the despair- jesus, he’s only been like this once but there was reason for it that time, not like now which is inexplicable, but must be his fault-)
it’s a bad sign that his body is letting him move now, to sit up and pull a shirt on and take his keys. Because he knows where he wants to go now, what he wants to do- it’s taken him four days and far too much wine to dull his instincts enough, but he’s managed it now. No more piddling around with water. He owns a gun and he knows where to find it.
When Tuco reaches for the doorknob, the door suddenly springs to life and smacks him, knocking him ass-flat on the neatly patterned carpet. He yelps; that’d hurt. A lot, actually-
and maybe it’s gone straight to his head and broken something there, because he’d swear that’s Blondie. Standing over him with that indefinable mystique, compassion in there but it’s half something else-
pure smugness, part of his mind supplies. The part that resents being saved.
“Came as soon as I could,” Blondie says. “Pablo didn’t wait to forward your postcard this time, he called me straight. You feel like getting up?”
“Okay.” His partner sits down next to him with casual indolence- that’s something he’d taught Blondie, years back. Not too many white boys who know how to sit on a floor without looking nervous about it, they make such a meal of squatting down.
If he put out his hand, he’d be close enough to touch that smooth blue expanse of leg. His choice. Blondie won’t touch him first.
“He knew it was that gonna be that bad, huh? That’s more than I did- I guess my brother knows me pretty well.”
Father Paul, though, what does his brother care about being taken for something he isn’t; and his whole body cringes.
Blondie ignores him, in favour of removing a cigarette from a pack and lighting it. Not a cigarillo. The smoke drifts over him as Blondie breathes out; his body craves it suddenly, urgently, but he fights down that urge the same way he’s managed to do for the last two months. If he takes it maybe that will mean the same as coming back to life, a signal he’s unwilling to give…the pain’s wearing off. It’d reminded him what real hurt feels like, but he’s forgetting just as quickly.
“He wasn’t sure,” Blondie says at length. “I was sure. That’s why I’m here.”
“You want to help, you could get me a gun.” It might be superstitious, to doubt whether he'll be able to hold to his intent after feeling the familiar weight of that pack on his shoulders again, but he’d rather not take the chance. “Just let me have it. I’ll do the rest.”
“If you want to die so bad as that,” Blondie says in his quiet drawl, “might be better all around, if I just took care of it for you.”
And Tuco jolts backwards, away- hating Blondie for this, that his partner knows him inside and out and exactly what buttons to press to make him live-
“You try, Blondie. You just try-”
and he lets loose then in a torrent of Spanish and English curses mixed, their sharp and heavy mouthfeel such a contrast to the politeness he’s been living with. Every insult and invocation and scatalogical comment doing its part, drawing him back, until he’s run out of words and rests exhausted with his head on his partner’s lap.
He weeps for a while, after that. Gets spit and tears and snot all over Blondie’s jeans, knows it doesn’t matter. It’s okay.
“Feel better now?”
After that they’re quiet for a while. There’s always this to be said for Blondie, a silence with him will never be uncomfortable.
(Not like Katie, who liked to blab bad as a hustler herself, as if pauses scared her.)
“So she broke up with you?”
“I broke up with her,” Tuco says. “After I said- after I said it-”
calling ciao, because he didn’t grow up in the neighbourhood for nothing-
and Katie had turned, waved, called back to him. “My gorgeous Italian lover!”
then he’d just fallen to pieces
“She didn’t mind, even, she told me that. I’m crazy. I told her, go fall in love with a spaghetti-eater and never talk to me ever again. I quit my job- Blondie, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Think of her as a mark,” Blondie says, the picture of calm. “You took her in with a hustle, and she fell for it. That makes her stupid. You don’t want to go with a girl who’s stupid.”
That’s not a fair way of putting it, Tuco knows that (she’s smarter than he is, working on a college degree by correspondence course)- but it’s a version of events that fits with who he is, and gives him back some dignity. A story he can live with.
“I want to fuck you. But later, not now.”
“We’ll do that.” Blondie stubs out the cigarette on the carpet, where it’ll leave a burn. Lights another one, takes a drag, places it between Tuco’s lips.
It’s good. It’s very good. He finds himself sucking up the smoke with eager pleasure.
“Where’s your pack?”
“Bus station locker. I was trying to go straight, prove to myself I didn’t need it anymore.”
Blondie snorts. “You still want to do that?”
“No.” He misses it; and besides, when Blondie’s around he always needs to be ready for a crisis. “We can go pick it up tomorrow before we hit the road. I don’t want to see this city again in my life.”
“That suits.” Blondie stands up with graceful ease, looks around the place with that quick, assessing glance- such a sexy way he has of doing it, maybe later on he’ll mention that. “You should eat something, you look like you need it- what the hell’s this?”
This being one of the pink packets, which Blondie holds between thumb and forefinger like it’s some sort of poison; and the contrast between the delicate package and his angered demeanor is so ridiculous that Tuco nearly falls over laughing. Too much, probably. But he hasn’t laughed at anything in four days, he’s catching up.
Blondie waits for him to stop, with tired patience.
“Something she left,” Tuco says, when he’s recovered. No need to explain which she. “She said it was healthy. Better for you than sugar.”
“Well, that’s all nonsense-” (Tuco’s always enjoyed this, his partner getting hot and bothered about something that is in no way either of their faults.) “This is just chemical sludge. It’s useless. Tastes sweet but that’s all it does, it won’t feed you.”
“She said-” Tuco says, and then stops, his mind working out the implications faster than he wants. Suppose he’d gone out on the road again, without knowing that. Hungry and anxious and not knowing why the coffee isn’t doing anything for him, thinking it was all in his head- he expects lies when people have something to gain or something to lose, but this? This is something else again.
“You see,” Blondie says. “She was hustling you, too.”
Not the way it happened; but between them, that’ll be good enough. Giddiness rolls over him in waves. Too much shock today, too many changes, his body feeling ill-used and cheated. “I’m hungry.”
“I thought you might be. Come on, you get cleaned up and we’ll go out somewhere. I’ve got money to burn right now.”
“As long as it’s not spaghetti. Or a goddamn pizza. Or-”
he has a wide and extensive knowledge of Italian dishes and starts methodically cursing out every last one he can remember, while Blondie chuckles and lounges on the bed. It’s a good thing, to have his partner back like this.
(The whole night, it never once occurs to him to ask what Blondie’s been up to.)