“I don’t like spiders and snakes!” thankfully there were none, just a dark corner in the back of the café where a man sat, alone. We ordered a cup of coffee and browsed the menu. As we sat down the man looked up and then looked down. He was erring on the side of portly, middle aged, wearing a linen suit with all the usual crumples. His tie was loosely hanging from his neck like an upside down noose, his shirt collar was swearing at him and the rest of the room and he was in the middle of setting up a significant sweating self irrigation system. He was reading a paperback book and smoking a long thin cigar, in the mirror opposite his reflection was smoking a paperback book and reading a long thin cigar, if only I thought.
The coffee was South American muddy, it may even have been African, depends on pirate travels and broken axles. The man had stopped reading but was still smoking, long thoughtful draws resulting in grey blue rings and circles of exhaled puff. He began to look across, moving in slow motion like some heavy lizard, his eyes seeming to scan across the floor and furniture, over our table and then over to us. Two travellers hiding behind the pale coffee. He produced a squint smile that smacked of pain and irritation and then he opened his mouth and spoke. “You guys need to talk to me if you know what’s good for you.”
Gangster cliché I thought and a tad scary, he’s some old con man, bored, looking for easy prey and not finding it in us, two slippery, tired and hungry road rats with an entire days pedigree (almost). We shuffled over and sat with him, perhaps he’d have a story and that story, once started could live on with us and join the great pool of stories that lives in the collective consciousness, never written, occasionally spoken, often changed, the true living bible and lost testament. Three lives.
We talked for a while, his offer was muling, a stupid idea and we told him so and he became angry. We decided to tame him by ordering dinner, sharing it with him and by stealth getting information on mule routes and methods. Then we could either engage with them or avoid them, travel knowledge is power, at least over the highway and the mud slide. He spoke east west and coast to coast until the food arrived, Ernesto noted the place names and road numbers, they may be real, they may be made up.
There was rice, green anonymous vegetables, orange anonymous vegetables, pink meat and oily liquid with a roll of hard unleavened bread. We three were hungry men so we ate and conversed, the suited man ate but still smoked, odd and off putting, like sex with socks on or swimming in a hat. His name was Pete apparently.