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DOUBLE ONES
Chapter Four

     Cal is finally deep in a dreamless sleep when the clang of the door bolt shot back awakens him to the present he does not wish to be in. He sits up. Every part of him, his skin and bones and guts, feels crawly, crusty, itching for balm, screaming for sedation. Roque looms above him, his too sweet cologne filling the small room.
     "You will come to Senor Schmidt now."
     Squinting and stumbling in the sun, Cal is herded across an interior court and into a two story hacienda. With Roque holding his elbow, he mounts a stair of dark blue ceramic tile, turns down a corridor, and enters an office surrounded by sweeping tinted windows overlooking the compound's interior courtyards and the cottonwood lined drive beyond. Herr Schmidt sits behind a vee shaped rosewood desk, a phone to his ear, watching some kind of financial ticker stream its numbers and symbols across a computer screen. He gestures, and Roque seats Cal on a low sofa by a black metal coffee table, then sits beside him.
     Roque draws a Spanish magazine with a lurid cover from an inner pocket and opens it. Five minutes pass. Herr Schmidt completes his call, looks at the screen, murmurs "excellent." He punches two digits on the phone, swivels his chair so his back is to Roque and Cal, and begins to speak in a low voice.
     Cal waits, sweating and shaking. He wants to project dignity and mild indignation coupled with gentlemanly cooperation, but the longer he waits the more this posture is eroded by raw physical need and fear. After twenty minutes, he turns to Roque.
     "Ah...Roque? Do you suppose I could have some tequila? Or perhaps a cold Carta Blanca? Little hair of the dog?"
     Roque ignores him.
     Cal's left eyelid begins to twitch. It feels as if there are grains of sand under the lid. He runs his thick tongue around his cotton dry mouth.
     "Roque? Ah...would a glass of water be possible?"
     Roque does not respond.
     Forty minutes pass before Herr Schmidt rises, crosses the office, and takes a chair opposite Cal. He carries a tiny porcelain espresso cup in one ham like hand. Cal registers, absurdly, that he looks like a large Nikita Kruschev.
     "I hope I did not inconvenience you, Herr Cross."
     Cal manages a jerking smile.
     "I...ah..."
     "You do not look well, Herr Cross.
     "I feel terrible, Herr Schmidt. I feel like I was ate by a dog and shit off a cliff."
     "Ate by a...ha ha! Very good, Herr Cross." Herr Schmidt's smile is split by the gap between his front teeth.
     "To tell you the truth, I could...ah...really use a drink."
     "I am sure you could."
     "Is this all...yours, Herr Schmidt?" Cal gestures toward the sweeping tinted windows.
     "I am not a tourist, Herr Cross. I do not live at the Sheraton Hotel. I occasionally go there to play backgammon with charming people such as yourself."
     "Ah...look...this is really a misunderstanding, simply a..."
     Herr Schmidt's smile is gone. He speaks in a low, precise voice.
     "Indeed there have been misunderstandings, Herr Cross. First, you mistook me for a fool, someone you could exploit. Then, you believed you could give me a worthless note and flee. The money, you understand, is trivial, but your presumption irritates me. And your bad manners. You should not be allowed to play gentlemen's games, at gentlemen's tables."
     The truth of it stings badly. But Cal is also aware that Herr Schmidt has not been totally straight with him, that he must, in fact, be a ranked player, that his initial careless play was intended to drive up the stakes. Cal's anger breaks through his fear.
     "Look, I have every intention of paying you. But my assets are in New York, and..."
     "Herr Cross, my annoyance with you grows. I have made inquiries. You have no assets. You are an alcoholic and a drug addict. You have debts to me and to your hotel. You are in a foreign country, and in your bag you have a small formulary of illegal drugs. Now, I will tell you what you will do. In the next few hours, you will try to think of a reason why I should not instruct Roque to break both your legs, and then wait a few hours, and then deliver you and your bag to the local Police Chief, who is a personal friend."
     Herr Schmidt pauses.
     "Perhaps, before he delivers you, Roque will amuse himself with you. He likes pretty men."
     Herr Schmidt sips from his espresso cup. Roque colors slightly and looks away.
     "So. Now. Roque will give you your address book. He will give you a phone. You are an intelligent man, a mathematiken, no? Perhaps you will discover assets I could not."
     A muted bell sounds on Herr Schmidt's desk. He rises, crosses the room, checks the computer screen, nods with apparent satisfaction, and returns.
     "One more thing. Because of your bad manners, because of the inconvenience caused by your behavior, I have increased your debt from $50,000 to $100,000. You will no doubt agree that this is fair. Do you completely understand me so far?"
     Cal nods mutely, like an obedient child. Oh Jesus, he is thinking. Oh Jesus, I am way out of my league on this one.
     "Shall I tell you something amusing, Herr Cross? Several years ago, I was refused permission to play in the Clermont Club tournament. The English, you know. Something about 'questionable associations' of mine. And yet you, who play without assets and walk away from your debts — you have been invited to play there, and more than once. The world is an odd place, is it not?"
     Cal nods again, silently, like a pupil receiving instruction. Herr Schmidt makes a small, dismissive gesture with his hand. Roque puts his massive arm around Cal and leads him gently away.

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