The Minstrel

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Jonathan spent the next couple weeks obsessed with his new role of investigator and detective. For hours on end, he would sit at the computer in the Fordham Public Library, going over and over news files from the late seventies, hoping against anything to dig information about the Valesquez murders.

The office was deserted. Frawley hadn’t stopped in it once since the Haines boy’s death. At home, his wife had mercifully been out cold behind closed doors. He had the privilege and freedom to get Raven ready for school himself, drop her off, go to the office, leave at lunchtime, take a quick lunch break at the Blue Sea Diner down the road, where Suzi the waitress had his Ruben on rye with light mayo, mustard and two dill pickles, Coke and lemon meringue pie order memorized, then he would take a brisk twenty minute walk past the Spanish deli, the boutique shop with grids closed over it, the corner where the illegals stood and waited for work, plus other colorful relics of Fordham. After all that, he would pick up Raven at school, and get her ice cream at the sweet shop being the last place before he took his usual place behind the library computer.

Raven loved the library, which was fortunate for him now. She had always been the bookish type. A gregarious child when she was born. For a seven year old, she was as bright and articulate as an above average twelve year old. She had already completed James Campbell’s Shogun and John Jakes’ North and South. She hardly ever got anything lower than a ninety-eight on any test in school, and her percentile ranking was the highest in the nation. She had an IQ of one hundred and forty-one. All her teachers had great expectations for little Raven Jocelyn Pfeifer.

As he passed the illegals, an idea occurred to him. He found himself stopping and all the newcomers gathered around him, thinking him to be a businessman in search of cheap labor. Most of the old ones who wore the faces he recognized ignored him, realizing that he was just a typical New York regular making like he was keeping in shape. But three of the old guys nodded to him. They sat together on a brick wall drinking beer. It was to these men that Jonathan approached.

They smiled, gold teeth showing, as if amused and puzzled by the approach of the gringo. Jonathan asked if anyone had seen a man named Raul. In response, they pointed to a lone figure standing by a deserted liquor shop. Jonathan gave one look to the bent over, drooped old man and thought to himself, this was the wrong idea. There was no way he would adequately describe the correct Raul’s physique in their language. He waved at the men, turning to resume his exercise, when he heard their yells behind him.

“Hombre, hombre!” they called. Jonathan looked at them speculatively as they resumed pointing to the loner. “Ingles! Ingles!” one explained to Jonathan, the rest agreeing with vehement nods. Jonathan understood their message, and, smiling and nodding his thanks, wished them beuna suerte on their job search.

The man he approached was unlike the rest. Instead of cracking jokes and beers opened, this one sat apart in a manner that conveyed separatism in more ways than physically. With his head bowed, eyes closed, and legs crossed, he resembled a Buddhist monk at prayer. As Jonathan approached his man, the snoring sounds got louder and louder. Jonathan realized that all it had been was that he had caught the hombre at his siesta time. It took much prodding on Jonathan’s part to shake him awake. When he looked at Jonathan, he gave him a look that resembled a man under physical attack, then, when he realized he was safe, changed to insult at the intrusion.

“What, can’t a man get some sleep around here without you gringos having a shit fit?”

Jonathan eyed the man curiously. A small man with a graying mustache and sombrero, he greatly resembled the hombre in the finishing scenes of the original Terminator movie, and about as evasive as well. He resumed his sleeping as though Jonathan had only been a momentary interruption. Irritated at having wasted his time and angry for coming up with this harebrained antic, Jonathan swore under his breath and once more began to walk away when once more he was called back. Jonathan was beginning to feel dizzy.

“Now that you wake me up, you say what you come for, eh?” he had a gleam of mischief in his eyes that practically laughed in Jonathan’s face. Jonathan felt himself choked back laughter despite everything.

“I’m looking for a man. He is a little under two meters tall, black hair, gray temples, very white.”

“How old?”

“Late forties.”

“A mustache or beard on this white man?”

“Unshaven, but no real beard or mustache.”

“Unshaven?” the man raised his eyebrows and circled his ear with his finger. “A loco man?”

“No. Very sane.”

“Unshaven but sane? Hah. And he is a white man? Hispanic white man?”


“Dominican? Venezuelan? You know, you gringos have a way of lumping us together. What if I said you were no different than a Serbian? Would you like that? Now, what nationality?”

“Puerto Rican.”

The man’s eyes flashed for a second before returning to its indifferent stance. “Yes, we get a few of them. They try to take jobs that don’t belong to them.” He scrutinized Jonathan. “What’s it to you? You want a job? You going to be a white Hispanic boy for the day? You look too rich. You want a job with Raul? How do I know that you don’t want to get Raul in trouble, eh? Say I know him.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Jonathan retorted with a smile. The man gave himself away again with the sharp flash. Jonathan knew he had something, so he stayed, standing his ground with a goofy grin, trying to look as innocent as possible. The hombre looked behind him, then returned to Jonathan. “The guys there are looking at you. They want your wallet. You better go. More of them to you. And I can’t help you. I am mano viejo.”

Trying to get rid of him. “Don’t worry. I have no dinero for them to take.”

The man lowered his eyes to Jonathan’s pocket areas, which were inconspicuously flat, devoid of any bulges. He pursed his lips in a sort of defeated look. His body limped and his eyes drooped at Jonathan is resignation. “I am an old man,” he weakly protested.

“Well, you’ll be an old man in jail for illegal passage if you don’t stop playing games with me.”

Visible stiffing. Jonathan had no intention of throwing an old man in jail for trying to find a better place to lice, but it was an effective tool. “I have visa.” Came the sharp bark.

“Then why are you here? Why not get a job where you can make more money legally?”

“My friends are all here.”

Jonathan lay out his hand. “Where is your visa?”

“At home. I don’t want no gaucho stealing it.”

Jonathan knelt beside him. “Tell me what you know about Raul, and then I won’t give you a hassle about your visa. I have dinero, but it’s only for you.”

The man snorted. “The hombres there kill you before you give money to me. They will steal it.”

Jonathan shrugged. “I’ll take you for a good meal, then.” That perked the man’s ears. Jonathan was getting him where he wanted. “Now, what do you know about Raul?”

“Many Rauls, so many. Puerto Rican? Forty? Dark hair, a little gray? Many Rauls I know. What else? Is he in trouble?”

“Not by me.”

“So who are you? His protector? What are you going to protect him with, gringo power? Gringo power is nothing, nothing against a gun. He is safer here, whoever Raul is. No one knows anyone here. See? You know me? No. But out there, it is easy to get known. Where will you take him with your gringo power? To a witness place where he can get killed in the dead of night? Hah.”

“Where I hide him no one will know. He is in danger here. Besides, even you said. A Puerto Rican will get in trouble here for stealing work. If you have any concern for him, you will tell me.”

“I told you, many Rauls. Many with dark hair. So who is he? How is he different that I would know?”

“He sings.”



“Sings, like discotheque sings?”

“No he sings” Jonathan stumbled for a description—“sad songs. He sings sorrow.”

“And he makes money singing sad songs? Like country music where all the gringa girls blow their noses and weep?”

“No. No money. He sings on the streets, and no one is there to watch.”

The man looked blank for a second then burst into recognition. “Oh! The celebrity. The one the reporters call the minstrel. That one?”

Jonathan got excited. “Yes, him. Have you seen him?”

His devil’s advocate became sullen again. “They say he murdered holy men,” he said with arms folded and eyes deep in space.

Jonathan nodded. “Yes, they do say that.”

The man turned to Jonathan. “And you? Do you say that, too?”

With the same tight expression upon his face, Jonathan this time shook his head. “No, I do not.”

“Why? Why do you say differently than your white friends?”

“Because,” Jonathan said slowly, looking out into yonder with Mr. No name, “I have met him. And I have seen killers. He doesn’t have their eyes. He doesn’t have the eyes of a killer.”

The man suddenly beamed, then returned to his indifferent slumbering position. Jonathan remained this time. No name spoke again.

“He was here two weeks ago. A man named Hal comes here for farm help hired him. Harvest time and all, you know.”

“Have you seen Hal since then?”

“He comes here every Thursday,” the bland reply came. Today was Tuesday. Jonathan made a point of coming back in a couple of days. He turned to give No name his end of the bargain, but no name was sound asleep. Jonathan smiled as he went away, ready to go to the school to get Raven, the true love of his life.

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