El Bandito by Michael G. McLaughlin
Victorio Valdez, El Bandito, was a retired Mexican actor living in Guadalajara. He had been in over 30 Mexican and American films, always as the heavy. In his youth he was shot from horses, tumbled down flights of stairs, and had whiskey bottles shattered over his head. In his film career he had been killed by some of the legends of the cinema including Gilbert Rowland, Eli Wallach and John Wayne. John Ford liked Victorio’s deaths so much the Duke killed him three times in one film.
And Victorio looked the part of a Mexican desperado; short and squat with a big, bushy black moustache, grizzled facial features and menacing smile. But old age had now rounded his face and tempered his sinister smile. His wife colored his gray moustache black once a month. El Bandito’s last film was in 1989, Duel at Durango where he was gunned down in a barroom shootout.
Victorio’s life now was making personal appearances at supermarkets, department store openings and an occasional print job. His costume was rawhide chaps, crossed bandoleers, a wide sombrero and Mexican wheel stirrups that jingled with every footstep. Now when he drew and fired his pistolas they shot two small flags that read: barato and bajo precio. The older people remembered him and would shoot him with their fingers like an imaginary gun and he would grab his heart and stagger backwards. Not one month went by without an old fan wanting his autograph or take his picture with their smart phone. His agent said he should ask for money, but the little recognition he got was payment enough for El Bandito.
This day, Victorio was up early, his wife helped him with his boots and he drove to a grand opening of a new Wal-Mart in Zapopan. When he found the store, the cars in the parking lot were like ants, so he parked a few blocks away and walked. As he neared the Wal-Mart, he turned a corner and saw what looked like a woman being robbed by a small man with a black gun. What should he do? Victorio knew he had to stop this man. But how? The man clearly had a real gun and he was an old movie actor shooting little red flags.
The women ran in the other direction and the robber froze when he came upon Victorio.
The little man waved the gun in the air. “Step aside or I’ll kill you!”
Victorio was so scared all that he could think to say was dialogue from his old movies.“Vato, your pea shooter is not so big and I have…” He tapped the pistols. “…Los cucarachas. We were born to die anyhow. Nobody leaves this world alive.” Victorio threw his head back and laughed like he did in the movie Lust for Gold.
“You are loco, old man.”
“I am ready to die. We are Mexican, no? Made of the same soup.” Victorio heard music coming from across the street. “Hear that music. When a man dies let there be honey in the mouth and music in his ears to help carry his soul to heaven.”
“I telling you one last time to get out of my way!”
“Muchacho, have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
The little man said in a calm voice. “Let me give you half.” He held out the small purse.
Victorio laughed out loud and looked back over his shoulder. “How can we make a deal when the shoes do not match the feet.”
Suddenly the little man got brave again and waved his gun around. “What are your last words old man?”
From the movie El Diablo, me Amigo, Victorio remembered, “When I die, the last words on my lips will be the name of my mother, my wife or the Virgin of Guadalupa. The Mexican women are much stronger than we are, no?”
When the man paused, Victorio, without looking, he had done it so many times in the movies, reached down and unloosened the little leather loops that held his pistols. His eyes narrowed and he smiled. He wished he had worn the fake gold caps in his teeth like he did in the movie Beso de Muerte. “Maybe you will kill me or I kill you. Life and death are funny.” El Bandit’s hands dangled above his pistols. He rubbed the fingers together.
When the little man hesitated, Victorio added another line from Pistola, Sangra y Destino, “Vato, maybe we both die and go hand in hand and meet our maker. From there, I am afraid, we will walk different paths.”
The little man genuflected like he was in church and laid down the purse and walked away. Victorio didn’t move until the little man disappeared around a corner. Victorio picked up the small purse and walked on to the Grand Opening where he posed for pictures with children, old women and chihauhaus.
When he got home his wife was cooking in the kitchen. She didn’t look up. “How did it go Victorio?
Victorio walked to the cabinet, got down the bottle of tequila and downed three straight shots. His wife stared but said nothing. He staggered to the kitchen table and then told his wife what happened. Of course she was as mad as a wet hornet at his macho bravado. Life was not some movie to be acted out. He could have been killed and then she would be left with only his old movies to haunt her. Then she became afraid he was imagining the whole thing and she would lose him to the dark side of his mind. Victorio showed her the purse with over 400 pesos in it and his wife really got mad, yelled and waved the kitchen knife around for emphasis. Victorio knew he was in more danger now then the little man with the gun. He was arguing with an angry Mexican woman holding a knife in her kitchen.
One more line came to him in the moment. “My love, you can kill me, maybe I deserve it, but kiss me one last time, so I might die with heaven on my lips.” His wife suddenly stopped yelling and asked calmly, “La pelicula, Jardin de Pecado?”
“Si.” Victorio said with a warm smile.
After all was said and done, they kissed and hugged like young lovers. But Victorio’s wife made him give the money to the poor.
© Michale G. McLaughlin 2013
In 2005 Michael escaped with all the money he could carry out of the USA and now lives in Mexico. During the past 11 months he has been traveling the world and hopes to return to Mexico in June.
El Bandito was read by E. James Ford for the Heroes & Villains Show on 1st May 2013