Before the hulking stranger on the floor of the pigeon shed recovered his wits, I got my first good look at him. He must have had to bend almost double to cross the doorsill, so tall he seemed. He looked Californian—black-haired, brown at the hands, red in the face, and badly sun-burnt around his thick, sugared beard. If I wanted to pursue newspapering, M. Vignes had said, I had better learn to notice details.
The man opened his eyes with a ready, well-worn smile, then groaned and sank back as his situation rushed in upon him. His eyes never left me.
The voice was raw, but he spoke English like an Englishman. “What are you,” he asked, “fourteen? Twelve?”
“I thought you were a burro,” I said. When interviewing, M. Vignes had also counseled, you ask the questions.
“Not a burro,” he said, “but close. I’m a reporter.”
“A reporter? Have I read anything of yours? Who do you work for?” I tried unsuccessfully to conceal my excitement. “The Californian? Noticioso de Ambos Mundos?” I paused in awe. “Reuters?”
“I’ve been fired from all of them. Twice by the same editor at Ambos Mundos. Now I’m with El Clamor Publico out of Madrid…?”
“We only get the papers that come through on the stage,” I admitted. “I don’t know that one.”
“I get that a lot. Madrid and I haven’t heard from each other in a while, anyway. But if I’ve been fired, nobody told me about it.”
“Are you here on a story?”
The journalist closed his eyes with an expression of great weariness, then opened them wide and looked over at La Jefa.
“I need to borrow your bird.”
“La Jefa? She’s not mine to borrow. Besides, nobody borrows a racing homer. Turn this one loose, she’ll make straight for Mexico City and never look back.”
Thoughtfully, not expecting much, the journalist reached for his hip. He barely registered his disappointment.
“It’s in a safe place,” I said.
“I need your bird,” he repeated. “I’ll bring her back if I have to walk both ways.”
“But Paul Reuter gave her to Monsieur Vignes himself!”
The journalist closed his eyes again. He looked tired of thinking. Then he reached into the other pocket.
“If that bastard Reuter were here,” he said, “he’d offer you this.”
Of a sudden, the palm of his outstretched hand brimmed with yellow dust. He poured it onto the deal table between us. It formed a small cone there. What remained of the candle made the pile glint, and his eyes with it.
“How do you know?”
“I passed through Georgia in the thirties. I know.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Do you want some or don’t you?”
I loved M. Vignes, but my father owed him a fortune. Now it was my turn to think.
“I want something better,” I said at length.
“Oh, no,” he said
“I want to hear the story.”
Artwork by Jacquelyn Campaña.
David Kipen is the founder of the nonprofit Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights, a lecturer on the UCLA faculty, and a Critic-at-Large of the LA Times. His Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters will be published Fall 2018 by Modern Library. The Américas will be his first novel, and he welcomes your kibitzing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright: © 2017 David Kipen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/