"I turned away and onto my side, glancing at the tattoo on my upper arm. The one I tried so hard to hide. The one where tiny droplets of blood now rose from the faded black Gothic lettering, fresh ink to darken it after years of neglect. It wanted to look its best when it returned home."
Excerpt, Chapter Two from Half Outlaw by Alex Temblador. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2022 by Alex Temblador
1990, thirty-one years old
I dreamed about the Red River, just north of Wichita Falls, Texas. The muddy brown water with a slight red tinge separated Texas and Oklahoma like a mother holding her two children apart.
In the dream, my mother and I sat on a picnic blanket on the shore of the river. Her pale skin burned bright red from a sunburn. It contrasted with her yellow bikini. My father wore a black hat and swim trunks. Unlike his wife, his tan skin darkened under the Texas sun.
My mother pointed to the middle of the river and said, “Tom, go get that for me.”
My father replied, “Okay, Jean,” and walked into the fast-moving current.
I barely remembered our time at the river, hardly remembered my parents at all, but I knew this wasn’t what had happened that day. I wanted to cry out for my father to stop, but I couldn’t. Nothing would come out. He walked farther into the river until finally, the dirty red water covered his head and he disappeared. My mother stood up and said, “Raquel, I’m going to help your father,” and then followed him in.
Panic built in my chest as I stood up and took a few steps forward. The muddy water nearly covered the top of my mother’s sandy blond hair when I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke. It pulled my attention. That smell . . . it didn’t belong here. I looked behind me at the scraggly Mesquite trees surrounded by brush. I was alone. Turning back to the Red River, I realized my mother had disappeared without a witness.
The shrill sound of the phone ringing woke me from my sleep.
“Hello?” Trevor had picked up the phone.
I put the pillow over my head, pissed off at being woken up in the middle of the night. I hated when anything interrupted my sleep—sex included.
“Raqi, it’s for you.”
I groaned into the mattress. Not another legal emergency. I moved the pillow beneath my head, catching my long brown hair for one second before I yanked it out, then grabbed the phone from him. Trevor fell back onto his pillow and rubbed his eyes, pushing the curled cord away from his face but to no avail.
“What?” I said sharply into the receiver.
“It’s me,” a deep, scratchy voice said.
I now wished for a legal emergency, any other emergency beyond the one Billy was about to lay on me.
“Billy, I already told you I’m not doing shit for you anymore. Whoever he is, he can rot in jail for all I care—”
“You’ll do whatever the fuck—” Billy snapped.
“The hell I will—”
“Raqi, shut up. I’m calling about something else.”
Billy only called to have me bail out one of his Lawless. I couldn’t do it anymore. People were beginning to label me as that lawyer with those criminals. I didn’t put in so many years of hard work to be associated with the drug-dealing motorcycle club I had tried so hard to escape. The one thing I’d kept from my time with them was my foul mouth—but that fit right in with the cutthroat world of Los Angeles law. That and my tattoo . . . But I had plans to get rid of it soon.
There was only one other reason Billy might call.
“I won’t do shit for Dodge either,” I said.
“You won’t have to.”
I had expected this call, in fact, years ago. Heroin, meth, coke—name it, he did it all.
“Drugs?” I asked.
Surprising . . . though drugs could cause heart attacks, too.
“So, you’re calling me because . . . ?”
“We ride out on Friday. Meet me and the club at Dodge’s that morning.”
“You’re a dumb son of a bitch if you think—”
“Goddamn it, Raqi!” Billy yelled. I pulled the phone away, my ear ringing with the volume of his voice. A crash echoed in the background. He’d probably kicked a chair.
“Be there at nine in the morning, or goddamn it, I’ll drive up to that gated community of rich slickers, kick your little Black boy’s ass, and drag you on this ride. Do you hear me?”
I squeezed the plastic phone, itching to slam it against the bed frame. “Racist asshole,” I muttered.
Trevor sat up in bed and mouthed, “What’s going on?” I was sure he’d heard Billy. My stomach clenched in embarrassment.
I gave my head a hard shake. He tried to touch my arm, but I jerked away. Trevor knew better than to try it again, so he crossed his sinewy arms and laid back on the bed. If he interrogated me after, he’d lose. He wasn’t half as ruthless of a lawyer as I was.
“You can’t bully me into coming,” I told Billy through gritted teeth.
“No, but I’ll give you something you want if you do.”
What did he have? My mind raced, and I stopped breathing. Billy waited, drawing out the silence like a long, stringy piece of cheese that stretched between a bite of pizza and its slice.
Finally, he said, “Go on this ride and I’ll give you an address.”
What was Billy talking about? “Whose address?”
Another punch. “Which—?”
My hand gripped the receiver so tightly I could hear the strain of the plastic trying to stay together. My grandfather. My Mexican grandfather. I had no idea he was alive. I thought Dodge was the only family I had left after my parents died in a car crash. I’d always believed that if there was anyone else, anyone, I would have been sent to them and not Dodge. How did Billy get this information?
“Well?” Billy asked.
As I thought about his offer, the spiral cord of the phone wrapped around my neck and squeezed slowly, leaving behind deep impressions of rubbery waves. The world had played a horrible trick giving a little brown girl to a racist white man with a substance abuse problem. Now, Billy was telling me that there was someone else, someone from my Mexican side, my dad’s side, someone who might look like me, might even be a decent human being. It became harder and harder to breathe as the cord cut off my breathing supply. I couldn’t say no to this offer, or else I’d suffocate.
“Fine,” I choked out, loosening my grip on the phone as the cord loosened its grip on me. “If I go, you give me the address and I’m out for good. No more legal assistance for you or the Lawless, no more calls. No contact—ever.”
Billy remained silent. I held my breath.
“Deal,” he said.
I inhaled deeply, not quite believing it had worked.
“Friday then, and don’t forget to cut your hair,” he added.
“I’m not cutting my hair. That’s a ridiculous tradition.”
“That’s your uncle and you’ll do it, damn it,” Billy replied.
My body had started to relax into the mattress, craving to go back to sleep, and yet my mind reeled with this news. “Whatever,” I said, hoping that would be enough to get him off the phone.
Billy sighed heavily, and the smell of the three glasses of whiskey he had consumed wafted through the phone. Dodge’s passing weighed hard on his black soul.
“They’ll be glad to see you,” Billy said.
“I bet they’ll throw me a ball.”
“Fuck you,” he said, then hung up.
I gave the phone to Trevor, and he placed it on the receiver.
“The Lawless?” he asked.
“No, it was bloody fucking Christ.” I turned away and onto my side, glancing at the tattoo on my upper arm. The one I tried so hard to hide. The one where tiny droplets of blood now rose from the faded black Gothic lettering, fresh ink to darken it after years of neglect. It wanted to look its best when it returned home.
Trevor wrapped his arms around me, cupping my left breast. He pulled me close to nibble on my ear. I pulled away and closed my eyes. Neither of us moved for a few seconds, but then I felt his arms squeeze me a little tighter. He kissed my neck and whispered, “I love you.” Although I was annoyed and frustrated by Billy’s call, Trevor’s kisses felt good.
What the hell? I was already wide-the-fuck-awake.
Alex Temblador is the award-winning Mixed Latine author of Half Outlaw and Secrets of the Casa Rosada. In addition to contributing to Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America and Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, Alex is an award-winning travel, arts, and culture writer with publications in Texas Monthly, Travel + Leisure, among many others. The Dallas-based author is the founder of an author panel series called LitTalk at Interabang Books and teaches creative writing across the U.S. Learn more at AlexTemblador.com or @Alex_Temblador.