Home > Shooting Down Heaven

Shooting Down Heaven
Author: Jorge Franco

1


      Nelson doesn’t need to read the lyrics as he sings karaoke. He knows them by heart and is crooning with his eyes closed. Loneliness is fear that silence locks in, and silence is fear we kill by talking. The tune’s going one way and Nelson another, but he doesn’t care. He’s told me, I’m going to sing you your daddy’s favorite song, so I listen intently. And fear is the courage to begin thinking about life’s final journey without moaning or shrinking!

   “Libardo would be crying by now,” one of his friends from way back whispers in my ear.

   “He had a song for every woman,” says another.

   Either he didn’t understand who I was when we were introduced, or since I’m a grown man now, he doesn’t feel any compunction about mentioning Libardo’s lovers to me. Or maybe mobsters are always loose-lipped.

   They pour me more whiskey without asking if I want any, even though I’ve drunk only half my glass. The guy to my right says, “But this was his song, just for him, and it was a real nightmare because musicians never knew how to play it. I warned him the song gave him away: a guy can’t go around admitting he’s afraid of fear.”

   He breaks off as the crowd starts clapping for Nelson. I’m anxious about my friends outside, hoping they don’t leave. My suitcase is still in Pedro’s SUV. And I don’t have Fernanda’s address.

   Nelson comes over and says, “Your dad would be doubled up bawling his eyes out right now.”

   “Yeah, so he said.” I gesture to the guy next to me.

   “So what did you think?” Nelson asks me.

   “Great, you guys sing great,” I say.

   “Nah,” he says. “It’s just a hobby—we get together every couple of weeks to let off some steam.” He laughs, then looks at me and says, “Your dad would have loved to come sing karaoke. He was a real music lover.”

   It’s true. Libardo was obsessed with stereo systems; he always had the latest model, not just at home but also out at the farms and in his car. If he was in a good mood, he’d listen to music with the volume way up, cheesy popular stuff that Julio and I used to mock relentlessly.

   “You don’t invite any women?” I ask Nelson.

   “Would you believe it,” he says. “The one time we brought women, they took over the microphone and didn’t let us sing.”

   Another man comes up, fat and grinning, holding a sheet of paper, and asks, “Did you already choose your songs for the second round?”

   “I’m doing ‘¿Y cómo es él?’” says the guy to my left.

   “Come on, Baldomero,” says Nelson. “Again?”

   “I didn’t sing it last time.”

   “Yeah, because you didn’t come. But the time before, and the time before that, and the time before the time before that . . .”

   “Well, whaddaya know,” Baldomero complains. “Now he’s deciding what we can and can’t sing.”

   “Let’s go and ask for the song list so you can look at what else they’ve got,” the fat guy suggests, and the two head off.

   “I’m leaving too,” I tell Nelson.

   “It’s still really early!” he says. “We go up to five rounds around here. One of these days we’ll get you in front of the mike too.”

   “Me?”

   They’re like little kids. They can’t sit still, roaming around from chair to chair, table to table, talking loudly, laughing raucously. I can’t pick out any of the ones who used to come visit Libardo, but it’s been twelve years—maybe it’s the same guys but they’ve gotten old. I wonder what they’re up to these days. Are they still on the wrong side of the law? Did they do their time? Are they still packing heat—not that that means anything in Medellín. Will they actually end up dying of old age?

   “How’d your mom get on?” Nelson says, and the question perplexes me.

   “Get on with what?”

   Nelson stammers something into his drink, claps for the fat guy, who’s started singing. This guy’s good, he tells me, he knows what he’s doing. With what?, I say again. This guy’s amazing, a kick-ass bolero singer. Nelson, when did you last see my mom? It’s been a while, kid, I haven’t seen her for two years, she’s as gorgeous as ever, I bet, he says. I bet, I say. Huh? What do you mean?, Nelson says. I haven’t been back for twelve years, I just arrived today, I explain. Oh, shit, Nelson says, everything must seem so different to you.

   “What’s up with my mom, Nelson?”

   “The world’s most gorgeous tits,” he says, letting out a boozy guffaw. “Sorry, kid, we used to say that to your dad to needle him.”

   The others are singing along with the fat guy for the chorus. And I’m dying to have you next to me, so close, so very close to me. Nelson raises his glass and joins in. Then he says, “Libardo had a good ear but a terrible voice,” and he repeats, “It’s a shame he isn’t around for this, he’d have loved it.”

   I down what’s left of my whiskey, picturing Fernanda the last time I saw her on Skype. There’s nothing wrong, she’s fine, she seemed the same as always. But what if she was hiding something? Just imagining the worst makes me give in to the urge to pour myself another.

   “Yeah, let your hair down,” Nelson says, smiling. “Today is La Albo­rada.”

   Suddenly we hear pounding on the door and then shouting and a scuffle. Some of the men get up, and others keep singing. What’s going on?, one of them asks, and picks up one of the pistols lying on the table in the middle of the room. Another does the same and barks, turn off the music! Outside, the shouts and blows are getting louder. Everyone around me’s pulling their guns out of their waistbands, jackets, or leather holsters. The only one who hasn’t noticed what’s happening is the guy singing. Turn off the music! Who’s standing guard outside?, another guy asks. The music cuts off, and the fat guy keeps singing at the top of his lungs, you’re my moon, you’re my sun. John Jairo’s out there, somebody says. And Diego too, says Nelson, probably referring to the beefy bouncer who almost didn’t let me in.

   I fear the worst: two gangs settling scores, or a visit from the police looking to make these guys pay, twelve years later. A short, stocky guy known as Carlos Chiquito moves toward the door, hiding his gun behind his back. Everybody else stays put, as Libardo used to say when things got hairy, on top-shelf reserve.

   Carlos Chiquito opens the door to reveal several men arguing. There are some women too. The first one I see, his face flushed and distorted with rage, is Pedro the Dictator. Behind him, La Murciélaga is waving her hands, also furious. Carlos Chiquito raises his gun, and I raise my voice to say, “Hold up, I know them! They’re friends of mine.”

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