Bernardo Villela has short fiction included in periodicals such as Coffin Bell Journal, Horror Tree, The Dark Corner Zine, and forthcoming from Dismember the Coop. He’s had stories included in anthologies such as Disturbed, There’s More of Us Than You Know and We Deserve to Exist. He has had poetry published by The Ekphrastic Review, Zoetic Press, and Bluepepper among others. Website: www.miller-villela.com
One for the Endless Road
Being raised half a world away from my extended family weighs heavy on the heart and soul, so I’d often return to Rio to visit. This particular visit was special because my friend Anthony was making his first visit to the place I’d been telling him about since we were kids. That was cool, but not without its own unique stresses. Though I had a bunch of experience telling tons of people through gritted teeth that we speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and that we don’t all live in the Amazon, bringing a friend into the culture had proven difficult. Still, I gave it my best try. Anthony had come all the way here, after all. Actually experiencing a place conveys way more than any story could. Or at least the visit adds colors to the story.
Anthony was staying at the Copacabana Palace, not too far from me, so I told him I’d meet him at a kiosk on the beach. After spotting one another in a crowd and saying our hellos, I suggested we get a table. He looked a little down. That was surprising, as he’d always smiled through the pain in the past.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He shook the disappointment from his face and didn’t dodge the question.
“I coulda come here with anyone,” he said, indicating the nearby tables occupied mostly by tourists so blatant even Anthony could spot them. “When I said I wanted to meet up with you, I thought it’d be like—you know, me and you, man. We always showed each other cool stuff we found. Y’know, insider knowledge, local stuff.”
“This was the most convenient spot. Didn’t know you wanted a tour guide,” I said, not bothering to mask my annoyance at his attitude.
“Dude, you know I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, ignoring the faux pas. That was a problem in and of itself, but I wasn’t trying to start something. Thinking maybe I was just being defensive because my worlds were colliding, I let him continue.
“I thought we were just meeting up here, and then we’d go somewhere, I don’t know, not so touristy. I mean like somewhere really Brazilian.”
“I’ve told you already, botecos are everywhere, man.”
“Aren’t they just bodegas, though?”
I explained that, while both serve food, many botecos are open-air. You can walk in and belly up to the bar and get a drink. The fact that after being served you could turn and face the street fascinated Anthony. Anything that flew in the face of puritanical liquor laws won him over.
“That’s what I’m talking about! What’re we waiting for? Let’s find a good one.”
“Most are the same, some dirtier than others. If you want one with character and history…” I stopped a moment wondering whether I should suggest the place that came to mind. “It’s a hike,” I concluded, hoping he’d drop it.
“Where?” he said. I should’ve known better.
“Lumiar. Out of Rio.”
Dejected, Anthony distracted himself with his phone for a bit. Under other circumstances, that would’ve pissed me off, but just then I thought it might save me. Maybe we’d talk about something else.
“You asshole!” he exclaimed.
“Lumiar is in Rio.”
“Yeah, the state. That’s like saying Syracuse is in New York. When people say Rio, they mean the city.”
“Can we go?”
“It’s, like, three hours away,” I said, exaggerating slightly, attempting to dissuade him.
“Can you think of somewhere else?”
“You can get drunk anywhere.”
“But not anywhere really Brazilian.”
“Fine,” I conceded. “If you really want to see a unique botequim—”
“I thought it was boteco.”
“It’s a synonym. Portuguese is a bitch,” I finished with a smile, accepting that we’d be going, but feeling unsure as how to brace him. How could I even begin to explain? That was what I thought about as we walked over to the hotel to get his car.
Anthony wanted to drive, and I didn’t mind that at all. It gave me time to gather my thoughts. Traffic slowed our exit from the city, and soon enough, the questions began.
“What makes this place special?”
“It’s like that house on Van Duzer Street.”
“For real, Robby? A haunted house? I thought you said this place aren't touristy. Or are you saying…” He stopped and swallowed hard before he could say the words. “Rob, c’mon. You’re supposed to be my friend. You aren’t tryna set me up like my brother did, are you?”
That took me back. Where we grew up, every kid in the neighborhood knew the stories about that old house: Creaky Dutch Colonial, cobwebbed paintings with eyes that followed you, rusty hinges, oohs and aahs of spirits, and sometimes the sound of a blunderbuss being shot in empty rooms. Every kid knew. So when Anthony and his older brother and his brother’s friends decided to sneak around the house one night, the prank they pulled on Anthony scared him half to death. Apparently, he’d heard all that shit that night.
Anthony continued before I could answer. “Cause if you are setting me up, you should know, Mikey and his friends scared me so bad, I pissed myself. Rental car companies aren't too hot on getting their vehicles back full of piss-stink, so you better not be messing with me, man.
“I promise, I’m not messing with you and it’s not a tourist trap,” I said. “But if your brother’s prank got you that bad maybe we shouldn’t go.”
“Why not? If it isn’t a prank and it’s not a haunted house—boteco, I mean—”
“And if it is?”
He laughed again, this time it sounded more liked the Anthony I’d always known.
“I’m serious. It’s actually haunted.”
“Bars can’t be haunted.”
“Sure they can.”
“Whatever you say, man,” He answered, smiling. “But you’ve been to this place?”
“I know the regulars.”
“Okay, I think I can handle a few ghosts so long as you know the lay of the land. Don’t need a sea-quest-row ray-lamp-uh-goo.” Anthony had tried out some Portuguese on me before this. It was better than previous attempts. His nerves thickened his accent now, slowed him up, but I understood he said sequestro relâmpago, “lightning kidnapping,” where you get kidnapped at gunpoint, taken to the nearest ATM, and after liquidating your account, you’re free, albeit poorer and traumatized.
“You’ve done a bit too much homework,” I said, not wanting to sound condescending. “Nowhere’s totally safe, but out in the sticks there aren’t as many people looking for marks as there would be in Rio.”
“If you say so, but ‘lightning kidnapping’ isn’t an expression in our neighborhood. That’s all I’m saying.”
“I get that,” I said, then I changed the subject as it could easily get me defensive again. “But where we’re going isn’t like our neighborhood back home or any in Rio. Look at it this way: a boteco, doesn’t shut the world out, it lets it in. You can coil yourself up and hide, become the worm at the bottom of a mezcal bottle. The boteco doesn’t just welcome you, it welcomes your problems—takes them from you like a tip left on the bar before spitting you back out into the world.”
“How’s that different from the place we were just at?”
“The openness, the transience of it. The spirits are transient too, the ones you drink and the ones that linger.”
“Damn, fool. How you dropping lines like this, sober?”
“Cause I’m serious. There are transients dead and alive. Some return repeatedly, some in bursts, some for long periods of time.”
Anthony scoffed. I ignored him, letting him think he shut me up. At least he wouldn’t be able to say I didn’t warn him.
Two hours into the trip that might take four hours at this rate, he asked “They still going to be open?”
“This is the kind of place where the drunks determine last call,” I said, then fell silent.
Lumiar was an unassuming rural Brazilian town tucked away in one of the densest, most untouched sections of Rio’s Atlantic Forest. Being further removed from Rio than Petrópolis keeps both the intelligentsia and workaday Cariocas away, making it amenable to haunting. There were night-shadowed farmlands and nice ranch houses. The surrounding hills and canopy filtered much of the moonlight, making it quite dark, save for the stars sprinkled across the sky like salt.
Passing the police precinct on the right was my cue to tell Anthony to hang a left soon. Our headlights lighting the dirt road, I saw the final turn before spotting the hand-painted wooden sign.
“Rua sem Fim,” Anthony read in gringo-accented Portuguese. “Endless Road?”
“Very good, you’re excused from homework tonight.”
The road was enclosed by thick underbrush and densely packed trees. Anthony asked, “How many drunks get trapped driving through here?”
“That’s why the police precinct is so close by.”
Reaching a clearing, the boteco was on the left with ample parking on the right. Mostly there was foot-traffic and carpooling, so there were always free spots.
Anthony basked in the glow of newly installed LED lights.
“Endless Exit?” he said, taking a stab at the establishment’s name: Saideira sem Fim.
“A saideira is your last drink, ‘one for the road.’ One for the Endless Road would be the best translation.”
“Wouldn’t it be ‘Endless One for the Road’?”
“Poetic license, and anyway, this is the Endless Road.”
The boteco had a clay-tile awning that protected it from the elements. On our right was a pony wall, long since stripped of its hitching posts, looking in on some seating. On the left was a refrigerator case with some readymade dessert options, and there was a freezer case behind that. The door leading there from the dining room was open.
“How’s this place close up?”
“Very well concealed roll-down door.”
“Really?” he said, incredulous, glancing back over his shoulder.
The bar was against the back wall. Behind it on the left was a swinging door allowing kitchen access.
“Bebeto!” exclaimed Seu Marcelo, an older, jovial, chestnut-skinned gentleman with a pock-marked face, and steel-wool hair.
Anthony squinted at me, confused. “Robby, who’s Bebeto?”
“A nickname of mine—one that you can’t use.”
Anthony smiled at that, then—
Actually, before I continue, I should get this out of the way. For convenience’s sake, I’ll be translating Portuguese directly, omitting my constant translation for Anthony whenever I can.
Now that that’s settled—I said to the old man, “Seu Marcelo, how are you?”
“Who’s the gringo?” Seu Marcelo asked, assuming Anthony was an American not only by his appearance, but also because I’d brought him here. And who else could I show this place to other than an American?
“Friend of mine, Anthony. We grew up together.”
“Anthony? Like Antônio? I’ll call him Totô, then.”
“See now you have a nickname, too.”
Anthony smiled knowing we’d have Brazilian nicknames to rib each other with. And now that any pretensions that he blended in had vanished, he gawked around the room like a proper gringo. The walls were faded, chipped, salmon-colored plaster, which led to a border of blue patterned tile and natural wood wainscoting. The tabletops were unadorned wood that matched the bar.
Seu Marcelo asked for my order. I kept that exchange in Portuguese in an attempt to get Anthony a standard cachaça while I got the house-distilled stuff.
“Start him off light,” I told Seu Marcelo.
Anthony’s drink was poured from the speed rack.
“Where’s yours?” he asked.
Carlitos, a tall, thin man who insisted on a combover to hide his baldness, came out with my bottle and a glass. Anthony was pissed.
“Why’s yours different?”
“It’s extremely strong.”
Carlitos then put two water glasses in front of us and filled them.
“I like strong.”
“You have to work up—”
“Don’t baby me, man, after coming this far.”
“I’m not. You don’t know strong this strong is.”
He reached for my glass.
“Not straight! I’m serious!” I turned to Seu Marcelo. “Make him a batida before he does something stupid.”
“What’re you saying?”
“Pick your favorite fruit.”
“You’re not having house stuff straight first time out. Don’t be an idiot.”
“How do I know fruit?” Anthony said, still confused. Sounding more childlike with each complaint.
“Maracujá.” I said to Seu Marcelo.
“What the fuck?”
“Passion fruit. You like it!”
He stopped. “I do, you’re right,” Anthony admitted. He leaned back, still steaming, trying to compose himself.
I’d not yet taken stock of who else was patronizing the boteco that night. The table by the post near the entrance was occupied by Gogô and his domino buddies. Vincente sat at the table by the restrooms, out of necessity. He had a small bladder even when he was younger. Then, at either end of the bar were Camilo and David who’ve been friendly rivals as long as anybody had known them. They’d sit at opposite ends of the bar, snipe at each other, then, if they got drunk enough and their mood improved, they’d make up and sit together. There was a group of girlfriends and three tables that looked like they were having postmortems about their respective dates. I didn’t know them. And I didn’t know the man who suddenly stepped up to us either. I hadn’t seen him until he was right in front of me. He seemed like a gray blur, like I couldn’t wrap my head around him—and I hadn’t even started drinking.
Must be tired, I thought. After I blinked, and the man crystallized into a crisp, solid image. Real solid. His heavy hand fell hard onto Anthony’s shoulder, turning my friend’s complexion three shades paler as he gaped at stranger. The man’s head was like a cotton swab blowing in the wind, his eyes cloudy-blue, his face slumped.
Anthony tried not to let his teeth chatter. For my part, I tried not to show the fear I felt on my friend’s behalf. A question danced in Anthony’s mouth, but the man behind him didn’t let it out.
He spoke to Anthony in Portuguese.
“What’s he saying, Robby?”
“He said he’s going to tell you why you’re being an idiot.” I ordered his drink, and Seu Marcelo turned to make Anthony’s batida.
“Sô me escute,” the man said.
“Just listen to him.”
The stranger pulled out a barstool and sat in one motion. The stool glided across the ground and took his weight without a creak. He was lighter than air.
“My name’s Ernesto, and I get it,” the gray haze returned, and I saw Ernesto’s eyes as if seeing the ocean through the eye of a hurricane. “What harm can a bit of booze from the asshole of the world really do?” Ernesto sounded like a crooner, but his voice seemed to be coming from far beyond his body. “Cachaça isn’t the only spirit this place has made. Selling cachaça used to be enough, but when absinthe was banned here in Brazil, this joint decided to make its own on the sly. Charged a mint for it, too. Was during that time when it happened, when there was something off about the house blend.”
“What? The proof?” I asked.
“No, that always was seventy to seventy-seven percent.”
“Wormwood was the issue.” Though the gray haze lingered, Ernesto was now nearly luminescent, like the moon shining through cloud cover. “Double the normal dose. Then a hotshot like you came in. Wanted some in the worst way. And he got it. Had one, two, three, four—then he hit the floor.”
“Did he make it?” Anthony asked.
“No, and he’s been here ever since,” Ernesto said fully visible again.
Anthony laughed. It was his usual sarcastic bray, but I could sense the nervousness that lurked beneath it.
“Great story,” he said.
Anthony’s batida was served. He took it, removed the straw, and tipped the glass back. Some dribbled down his face as he slammed the drink down and slapped the bar hard.
“Burns doesn’t it?” I chided him, “That’s shit-tons of alcohol and acid, you dingbat.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Didn’t you hear the story?”
“Whatever, man. It’s bullshit.”
“Even if it is, the moral holds.”
I turned to Ernesto. He was gone. Anthony’s expression went blank for a second, then he smiled.
“That seals it. You set that up!”
About to retort, I stopped. My glass was full. I was sure I had sipped some during the story to wet my whistle while I translated. No big deal, I thought, Marcelo probably filled it when I wasn’t looking. I took a swig and then told Anthony that I had nothing to do with that dude.
Anthony put the straw back into his drink, a smirk on his face. He was humoring me, but I was fine with that.
“It’s pretty good,” he said.
“The drink? Yeah, it’s even better when you can taste it.”
Checking my glass, it was full again.
“You topping me off, Marcelo?”
“No, sir,” the bartender smiled.
Disturbed, I decided I’d keep the glass in hand.
“OK, so prove it,” Anthony asked aggressively. “Prove you had nothing to do with that guy’s story.”
Lost in my thoughts, roped into a debate, I didn’t know what Anthony would accept. Then it came to me.
“Cause if I was going to tell you a story, I’d have picked a better one.”
Before getting into the tale, I knocked some back, and my focus became elusive. The miasma of spilled alcohol of drunks past, which was always there, drew attention to itself. Those who’d left the world in and around this place swirled around me, made the hairs on the nape of my neck stand up, skittered through my line of sight like floaters. Anthony, of course could see none of this yet, so I decided to not bring it up and try and tell my tale.
“My story,” I said with difficulty, my mouth suddenly dry. “My uncle told me this one. He brought me here for my first drink.”
Just then I heard two people enter the bar.
“I was excited back then. I’d just turned eighteen. Legal drinking age here but not at home, so there was something illicit about it.”
The duo sat at a table near the door, back to their wall, they had a good view of everything.
“Carlitos came to our table and took our order.”
“Uma cachaça e uma Cuba livre,” the elder of the two said at the back table.
Anthony hearing this looked back there.
“What’s Cuba livre?” Anthony asked, trying to act as if he was getting used to people stepping out of the past and ordering drinks within earshot.
“Rum and Coke,” I said, eyeing them, calm and collected despite what I knew was coming. Like I said, I knew the regulars. I’ve seen this show before and looked for changes in the performance. But Anthony was jittery, casting furtive glances occasionally in the pair’s direction.
“Who’re they?” Anthony asked, giving them a second look. “That kid doesn’t look like you.”
“No, this is who my uncle told me about,” I said without averting my gaze. We got a couple of ghosts, just not the ones I expected.
The young man at the table, Floriano, had a sheen of Brylcreem in his hair. The older man across from him, Jota, was his father. He had a pencil-mustache and wore a cream-colored suit complete with a fedora.
“Dad, we don’t have to do this today,” Floriano said, a cloud of melancholy darkening his face.
“We planned this long ago,” Jota replied automatically. He told Floriano to drink his drink.
But the young man was in a rare state, too unsettled to have a drink. “We should get home. I’m sure Mom’s worried.”
“She worries too much,” was all Jota said.
Then silence befell them. Jota drank at a steadier pace than his son, though that was to be expected. Even still, he drank more and longer into the night. Presently, it was midnight, yet at the same time, through the window I saw a morning sun blotting out the full moon.
Blinking, I asked, “Anthony, you seeing the sun?”
Anthony nodded in a last-ditch denial, “You really went the extra mile to set this up. You get the police to put a searchlight out there? And these actors, damn are they good.” He asked after the father-son pair. “So, what’s bothering him?” by which he meant Jota. It was clear any concern of Floriano’s was for his father, not himself.
Sensing the tension between the two, my eyes surveyed the botequim’s projection of the past. A calendar on the wall said it was August,1954, which confirmed my suspicion. In whispers that weren’t strictly necessary, I answered Anthony’s question. An army major, and critic of then-president Vargas, had been assassinated earlier that month by a member of the President’s security detail. In his second separate administration, Vargas was embattled, losing his mandate. He claimed to have no involvement in this killing. Regardless, Vargas was pressured to resign on multiple fronts. After giving Anthony that needed background, I transitioned to what happened more recently and why a loyalist of the regime would seem so beside himself on this night that was supposed to be a familial milestone.
“The night before this,” I said, “President Vargas held a cabinet meeting—”
The father turned toward the bar.
“Hey, turn up the radio!” he said.
“Dad, why bother? What could possibly have changed?”
He had been worried like that the night before, too, same as the previous night. The father put a hand on his son’s shoulder and told him everything would be fine.
Then the radio came on. Through buzzing, popping, and static, we strained to listen to the broadcast. “We repeat our top story, one of the most shocking in our nation’s history: early this morning, the twenty-fourth of August 1954, the President of the Republic, Getúlio Vargas is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.”
The whole bar fell silent.
“I don’t understand why he chose the chest. What if it didn’t work?” the father asked. His face reddened, he clenched his teeth, biting back a torrent of emotion he didn’t want to unleash. Then he teetered, clutched his left arm, and fell out his chair and slammed to the ground.
The young man opened his father’s jacket, dug a hand into his suit jacket. It was empty.
He yelled asking someone to call for an ambulance.
Turning, Anthony took a deep pull from his straw. I didn’t begrudge him it. Looking down to take a sip myself, I was startled. Lying aground at the foot of my stool was Ernesto. I recoiled in horror.
“What?” Anthony asked. I pointed. He cowered. We neither saw nor heard the man fall.
“My grandfather never saw him collapse either,” said Seu Marcelo, nonplussed. “Thought he went to the bathroom for a while until another table spotted him.”
“You weren’t here in ’54, were you?” I asked.
“I was a child. I’m not that old,” said Seu Marcelo.
Anthony’s breath escaped him as if Ernesto needed to siphon it to haunt him. Probably, he thought me cruel to take it in stride. Feeling pangs of sympathy, I turned to Anthony.
“Transient, like I said. They’ll be here, talk to you, then they’ll be gone—like right now. Turn around.”
Anthony turned. I knew what I saw, but I had never shared a haunting before. Even when I was here with family members, we tended to see our own visions and swap stories later, so I awaited his reaction anxiously. Anthony’s sigh of relief told me the father and son had vanished for him too.
We breathed twin sighs of relief. Seu Marcelo relaxed as he cast Anthony a sideways glance. “The first visitations are like first drinks, the next ones go down smoother but that doesn’t make them less dangerous,” Seu Marcelo said matter-of-factly. “Just make sure your friend stays alert. I’m always ready.”
“What’d he say?” Anthony asked, obviously more anxious than he let on. I translated Seu Marcelo’s advice.
“There’s going to be more of these…” Anthony realized he just had to admit what they were. “More of these ghosts. I can’t believe you’ve been here multiple times dude, you got some balls. I also can’t believe I pissed my pants at something fake. Dry so far, though.”
“Knock on wood. How’s your drink?” I asked to change the subject.
He finished it. I looked down; mine was finally done.
“Good, great, even.”
“S’long as you’re still paying.”
Laughing, I agreed. We asked for more of the same.
Carlitos came out with the house brand, his habitual smile plastered on his face. Then, like a light being switched off, his smile contorted into a grimace I didn’t think it was capable of.
“Freeze! Hands in the air!” a harsh voice ordered. Before I could tell Anthony to comply, he had. The martial timbre to that command transcended language barriers.
“Turn around!” it said.
Another full house for this blast from the past: everyone was bedecked in canary-yellow shirts with green collars; a tube television on the far wall showed a soccer game, Brazil playing in those same colors.
Six men fell in behind their leader—I couldn’t tell his rank—and had their firearms trained on the patrons, many of whom purposely spilled drinks hoping for a diversion.
Carlitos rushed back into the kitchen.
Gunshots rang out in his wake, taking chunks out of the plaster. We both ducked.
“Cease fire!” the leader yelled. When the echoes of screams went silent, he said, “We’ve been informed there’s a dissident on the premises.”
“We know not of what you speak,” Seu Marcelo said, unflinching.
It had to be Carlitos, I thought, the way he ran from a memory of a threat already avoided.
“More than one actually,” the Leader said.
My jaw clenched.
“There’s a patron more dangerous than the employee.”
“I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” Seu Marcelo insisted.
“There’s been a lot of subversive literature distributed in Lumiar by hand and by mail.” The square-jawed leader looked around. If there was no such thing as a military, this is the kind of guy who would invent it.
“What led you here?” Seu Marcelo inquired.
He held up a handbill with a flourish, he’d been waiting for it.
“You print on cheap paper. The ink bleeds. Look at the lower lefthand corner.”
He saw BOTECO SAIDEIRA SEM FIM faintly printed on the bottom of a flyer about a student protest. Seeing that prompted murmurs from the crowd.
“We know the names. Willingly give them up and we’ll go easier on them.”
Looking at Seu Marcelo, I saw fear emanating from when he was a younger man, fear he had lived with since this day and felt down to his marrow—the kind of thing he was always leery of it rearing its ugly head. Once you’ve seen something like this happen in your country, you know how easily it can happen again.
A scream rang out. Glancing back, we saw a lanky man who’d extracted a gold tooth from his mouth, his blood yet flowing. A capsule fell on the table. Guns aimed his way. He picked up the poison.
The soldiers were about to fire when the commander ordered them to hold.
“Viva a Sociedade Alternativa!”
The man bit down hard.
And so together, we and they, watched the lanky, curly-haired dissident with his Che Guevara facial hair choke to death. It wasn’t the most stealthily implanted cyanide, but not everyone had an army or intelligence agency to help them with that.
“Good man,” the Leader said, ice in his veins. “Let that be a warning to your employee to cease and desist.”
The Military Police left, and the seventies vintage patrons vanished.
I turned to Seu Marcelo trying to catch my breath. He was proven correct; the chaser is more dangerous than the first shot.
“Double please,” I said, needing more booze to face further phantasms. Turning to check on Anthony, I saw his hands shake like hummingbird wings.
“Yeah, double—straight. Saideira time,” he said.
I laughed. His accent had much improved.
Seu Marcelo poured our drinks. We were well lubricated at this point, so we didn’t pace ourselves. I knew Anthony wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. Halfway through his glass it struck him.
“Oh shit! I just realized—how’re we getting outta here? I can’t drive, and you can’t either.”
“No,” was all I could think to say. Anthony laughed a laugh reserved for a certain threshold of inebriation.
“It’s gotta be a taxi.”
“That’d be too expensive. Besides that, my car’s here.”
“You looking for somewhere to sleep it off?”
Seu Marcelo met our wary glances, and my imagination ran wild with speculations. “You look confused,” he said. “It’s been a while since you’ve been here, son. A motel opened just up the way. We offer a shuttle service there, gratis.” Without meaning to, I left the Portuguese inflection on my translation to Anthony, but gratis is one of those words that translates across pretty much every language.
Carlitos came out and refilled our waters. Having not hydrated all night, I took a big swig, and he topped me off straight away. Glancing toward Anthony to see which way he was leaning, I saw his eyes pleading with me to make up my mind.
“Yeah, we could head over there. I could use a midnight snack anyway.”
Anthony didn’t want to agree, but he was hungry. We had an order of pão de quiejo and finished our drinks. Introducing him to the wonders of the cheesy bread and guaraná in soft drink form, we almost forgot all we’d seen.
High beams shone through the boteco, nearly blinding us.
Outside, we spotted a white Volkswagen Rabbit speeding toward us. It crashed into the awning post, smoke billowing from the engine block. We were stunned, but even more stunning was that the driver seemed rather unaffected. Behind the wheel, a young man in a jean jacket sat, blood pouring down his head and flattening his mullet.
Smoke thickened. Anthony turned to me and asked. “Do you know that ghost?”
Seu Marcelo came over and gave us two more glasses of filtered water. Looking toward the awning post, he said, “That was a sad thing, that kid dying all alone.”
Before we could even begin to process that, we heard the wailing of police sirens issuing down the Rua Sem Fim.
From behind us came a loud, woody pop. Turning, we saw Seu Marcelo had slammed a rocks glass down on the bar top. He looked afraid but alert, present.
“Everyone, hide!” he yelled over the sirens.
The girlfriends got up and vacated the boteco like this was a routine fire drill. Slow to react, I stood and signaled Anthony to follow. Seu Marcelo ran like a man half his age and slammed the roll-down door, then locked it. I ducked behind the bar. Anthony followed.
“How are we all seeing the same thing?” he asked in a desperate whisper. The sirens we on top of us now. Bathroom doors shut and locked. Tables overturned. Seu Marcelo and the dominoes players ducked behind the bar with us. Anthony slid down closer to me.
“This is happening now,” I whispered back.
Faintly, I heard voices beneath the blaring outside.
“How do you know?” Anthony asked.
The sirens cut off before I could respond.
“Military Police! Marcelo, open up! We know you’re in there.”
“We have a warrant to search the premises for contraband, drugs, and paraphernalia,” the stern voice continued.
“No, you don’t! You have no warrant!” Seu Marcelo yelled.
Both Anthony and I slid down and lay flat on our backs. Staring at the ceiling, I saw sparks fly as a barrage of bullet drumbeats tore through the roll-down door.
Seu Marcelo crawled over to us.
“They don’t want you,” he said. He turned Carlitos. “Showed them out the back.”
I crawled after Carlitos, but asked “And where do we go from there?”
“Into the shuttle.”
Anthony only kind of understood what was happening, but knew well enough to stay quiet and follow along. Carlitos led us through the kitchen and out the back.
“And out front they’ll leave us alone?” I asked in a whisper.
“Just go!” Carlitos whisper-shouted frankly wanting to lock and barricade that door. We fled. Quietly we scampered around the side of the building.
The MPs and their cars were centered on the boteco, firearms still at the ready. Against the awning post, where we’d seen the crashed VW Rabbit was a Fiat Strada.
“This the shuttle?” I asked in Portuguese.
Heads of MPs snapped our way.
I piled in. Anthony followed and closed the door behind him.
The driver wore sunglasses for some reason and tossed a cigarette out his window.
He spun the car around the partial police blockade. Was stopped. A moment.
“C’mon, boss, I’m just a driver and they’re just customers,” he said.
The head of the MPs glanced into the backseat, unwavering, with livid eyes. He banged the roof then said, “Alright, move along.”
We breathed a collective sigh of relief as tour driver pulled out of the parking lot. Our eyes must’ve closed for a moment because after we heard our driver say “Lumiar Motel, gentlemen, won’t be two minutes,” I saw in the rearview his sunglasses were now off and that this was the young man we’d just seen crash. He wore a suit, not a jean jacket, and his wounds had coagulated, but it was him, mullet and all.
We swallowed the lumps in our throats and held our breaths. Every supernatural sight tonight had been new to Anthony, but this shuttle was completely out of my experience. We were equally unbalanced here. The calm I had in the boteco vanished.
The young man clicked on the radio. “Hotel California” played as we drove further down the Endless Road.