Rosa placed four glasses on the bar, poured three fingers of Cuban rum into each glass, produced as if by magic from under the old wooden bar two old‑fashioned bottles of Coke, and threw one ice-cube into each glass. She filled the glasses with a foaming, bubbling liquid that didn’t quite spill over the edge.
“Aren’t you going to join us for a drink while we wait?” Danny asked Rosa.
In reply, Rosa poured a large glass of dark rum, scowled ferociously, and chugged it. We gazed in wonder as it vanished silently down the dark tunnel of her throat. Rosa held out her hand and Danny placed a one hundred dollar bill in it. Rosa poured herself another drink.
“I thought they shut you down last week,” Larry took a careful sip from his glass. He preferred wine really, New Zealand Pinot Grigio for preference, and this in Spain where the white wine flows like water and drowns you in an instant.
Rosa downed another glass of rum and looked at the boys over the rim of the glass. They were so young and innocent. In what might be generously called the imitation of a knowing wink, she covered a porcine eye with a flabby eyelid.
“Only one policeman,” Rosa winked again. “Very young, he was, quite pretty really, and in civilian clothes. I might have fancied him myself, a long time ago,” she paused, poured herself some more rum and drank it. “‘Special duty,’ he said, and showed me his ID.”
“What did you do?” Larry sounded interested. He might have been taking notes for his next book.
“I invited him to sample my newest acquisition,” Rosa tightened her lips in what might pass for a smile. “You can all sample him yourselves later, if you want. He’s quite attractive.”
Danny proposed a toast to the latest acquisition, the savior of the human race. He hummed as he sipped cautiously at his Cuba Libre. Danny and Larry clinked glasses with Rosa and I allowed my glass to join them.
We sat for a moment in silence, our elbows rising and falling as we sipped, or pretended to sip, our drinks while waiting for permission to ascend the stairs.
Rosa waddled over to the wall and fiddled with the dimmer switch. The room became even darker and a red light flashed on and off as a soft and suggestive wailing noise came from the jukebox. “Better have some music,” she said. “I’ve got a feeling you might be in for a long wait.”
Danny looked around. The door and the open street were to his left. People walked constantly past the entrance, glanced in, and saw us boys sitting there, waiting.
Larry sat motionless, staring straight ahead, looking for inspiration. He inspected his feet. They were resting, about a foot above the ground, on a dull, brass foot rail that ran the length of the bar. Down there, on the floor, lay paper serviettes, cigarette butts, shells from peanuts, heads of shrimp, crusts of bread, all the debris of men who spend Sunday in a certain type of bar and throw what’s left of their meal on the floor at their feet. Suddenly, Larry raised his feet from the bar and cursed.
In the space between the foot rail and the bar, where his feet had been resting, a large cat, foaming and spitting, ran towards him. Behind it, red eyes glowing, white teeth snapping at the end of the cat’s tail, was the largest rat Larry had ever seen. It was at least twice the size of the cat.
“Jesus Christ,” he cried.
The cat pursued by the rat raced beneath the arch of Larry’s lifted legs and vanished into the street.
Rosa didn’t blink.
“Chinese ship in town, from Shanghai,” she said. “Lots of big rats around. What you expect?”
Loud cries from the exterior marked the animals’ exit. Two loud pistol shots followed almost immediately and a very young man ran into the bar. It was Luis. He wore the uniform of the local police and held a still-smoking gun in one hand with his police identity card in the other.
“You’re all under arrest,” he screamed.
“Don’t be so silly, Luis,” Rosa smiled at him. “She’s upstairs, waiting for you. I knew you’d be here early tonight. Look, if it will make you more comfortable, I’ll close the bar.”
The young man put away his badge and nodded.
“Get them out of here, Rosa,” he said, dismissing us with a gesture of his hand. “Back door. And tell them never to say a word. Or else …” He waved his gun towards us, blew the smoke from the end of the barrel as if he were John Wayne in a cowboy movie, then tucked the pistol back into its holster.
Rosa nodded and waddled to the front door, turning off the lights as she went.
Danny, Larry, and I looked at Luis, nodded agreement, pressed our index fingers to our sealed lips, ran out the back door, and vanished into the night.