All Steele at Dawn
By Adriana

Standard disclaimers apply.
Permission to archive granted.

This story is rated PG-15 because it contains very foul language. If you are offended by swear words and the like, then this piece is not for you!

His eyes narrowed but one could not see it, the pale yellow light that spilled from the streetlamp slashed by the severe brim of his hat. As he moved slowly, his feet carelessly stepping in puddles of brown water, his hand sought the blade.

His opponent was fierce; he was also drunk and filled with the courageous irreverence of youth. Even though he claimed to be older, the Irlandés couldn't have been more that twenty.

In the stillness of the night, only the crickets and the wind disturbed the absolute silence of curfew. The street was empty and the lonely light coming from the rickety lamp that hung from the sign of the bar was enough to allow them to see each other. Barely.

Malaboca wasn't too fond of these two-bit towns, they reminded him of the home he had left so long ago, yearning for the excitement of the city. A city that he had been more than willing to leave, some weeks ago, when business was beginning to fade and the people grew ever more restless. Hell, he thought with concern, the whole country is a powder keg waiting to blow, anyway. The military will soon be in control and they are ruthless, but I won't get into trouble as long as I don't get into politics, and have my papers, and don't get caught. And I have never been caught, yet. Thank God. The Irlandés should thank me for getting him out of there, away from the army, and away from those trouble making students and most of all that girl he liked but couldn't-

Malaboca made a quick move and barely avoided the tight fist that the young man had aimed at his stomach. He spat in disgust at his own carelessness and stood still, not attempting a counter-attack.

There was nothing to say, either.

The Irlandés was very tall, one head taller than Malaboca but thin and light, and his muscles seemed to be fuelled only by adrenalin, and booze. He was yelling, and spitting, and cursing at the same time, his facón already out, his hat discarded. Malaboca admired the fine weapon, a big steel knife with a hand-carved ivory grip and wondered where the foreigner had obtained it. He must have probably stolen it, Malaboca gathered, or won it in a bet. I'd bet my head on the former!

He remembered the night, several weeks ago, when he had met the youth for the first time in a back street of Soldati, a rough neighbourhood in south Buenos Aires. It was a dangerous place for foreigners to be, but a good one if one liked amateur boxing. Not perilous if one knew how to make a quick profit and then get out of the place swiftly and anonymously. Malaboca had placed two thousand pesos on the young man and by the end of the night had made an excess of two hundred thousand. He had congratulated himself on his keen eye, which had allowed him to prize the new fighter for his real worth. He had instantly recognised in the young man the likes of a future champion, liking the way he moved and ducked and hit. He was also good at taking the blows, and was strong.

He looked up grimly at the youth now in front of him, pacing like a panther but his legs not so steady. Water was pouring down his brow, his hair soaked but he didn't seem to notice. Nor did he notice the state of his new boots, completely covered in mud and the fine suede looking worse for wear. Malaboca had to smile. That'll send him on a good rant tomorrow! If he survives until tomorrow, that is. The old man knew he could take his adversary anytime; he was good with the knife and still agile for his age. He wondered, however, if it was best to attack or wait.

He waited, the danger pleasing him, making his skin come alive and his old muscles twitch in expectation. Still, he tried to keep his head cool. The young man gave a tentative pace to the side, his eyes dangerously on his target, the muscles in his arms as tense as steel wires, his jaw clenched. Malaboca followed the silent pattern of their dance, enjoying the duel. His eyes searched the young cobalt eyes that peered at him from behind a curtain of raven black hair. He's very clever, Malaboca thought, examining the young man's moves. I'd better be careful now, the Irlandés is not himself and he might kill me, or I might kill him and either way it will not be good.


It would be such a waste!

His mind flew back to the fateful night of their first encounter. With a bellow of laughter and a wink in his eye, he had counted his wrinkled gains and gloated at the misfortune of the poor sods that had lost their shirts. He had walked in his usual heavy long strides to the exhausted boxer's corner and offered him a well-deserved glass of wine with sparkling water. The young man had downed the drink thirstily, frowned at the stranger and grunted his thanks.

Nonplussed, Malaboca had continued. "Que pelea, pibe! Se ve que tenes huevos!" -What a mighty fight, kid! It shows you've got balls! The older man had slapped the youth affectionately on the back.

The reply had been a hostile silence.
But then he had learned the young man was Irish so he wouldn't understand Spanish. Therefore, Malaboca had dragged him off the ring, thrown a jacket over his sweated, thin shoulders and took him over to Juarez's. Juarez was the only person Malaboca knew spoke English.

They arrived ten minutes before midnight, and entered without knocking.

The house was dimly lit and tidy. In a corner, a small back and white TV with a metal hanger for antenna erupted once in a while with some intelligible sounds. Mostly, it was just noise. There were few niceties, but everything seemed to be just in the right place, have just the right size and shape, and be of just the right colour. The simple harmony and beauty of the rooms  were paralleled by the impeccable appearance of their owner.

Juarez was a slim man, very neat and quite elegant in an inexpensive way. His plain shirt, topped with a perfectly knotted blue silk tie, was starched and pressed. The line of his trousers was severe, his shoes, although old, were as shiny as opals.

"Malaboca Viejo! ¿Qué te trae por acá?" - Malaboca old man! What brings you here?

Malaboca pushed the young man forwards, motioning for him to sit. The youth obeyed, picking one of the modest armchairs in the living room and flopping blissfully in its merciful softness. His tired muscles seemed to welcome the unexpected lucky break as he stretched his long legs forwards, assuming a completely relaxed air that was not human but feline. He needs only to purr and the illusion would be perfect, Malaboca thought, envying the young man's luxurious respite and knowing it was beyond his reach. Such were the prerogatives of the troubled mind.
Malaboca smiled. "Este" he replied at length, pointing at the Irlandés with a gnarled finger. - This one. And then he added, "He speaks in English, I think. But he doesn't say much"

Juarez beamed with excitement, the prospect of brushing up his English with a native greatly appealing for a man of letters like him. The fact that he wasn't really a scholastic but a punter at the track in Palermo Viejo was inconsequential. Everybody is entitled to his or her hobbies, and Juarez's were languages. 

He looked at the young man in the eyes. "Wat is your name, friend?"

The youth lifted his head, his eyes restless, but his body still languid. He avoided the question and glanced at Malaboca, who smiled reassuringly. That didn't work, as the young man kept his obstinate silence and closed his eyes to avoid further nuisances.

Juarez and Malaboca shared a disappointed look, and Juarez shrugged his shoulders. If the boy didn't want to talk, then he wouldn't talk. But Malaboca had other ideas. Going over to the armchair, he jerked the youth awake with a soft slap on the head. Subtlety had never been his strong suit.

The young man opened one eye in protest, obviously quite displeased with the familiarity.

Taking his hand to his mouth, Malaboca aped a feeding motion. "Te pica el bagre, che?" - is your belly itching, eh? he asked, knowing he was holding a winning hand if the stranger was a hungry as he looked.

At the other end of the room, Juarez chuckled and started heading his way towards the kitchen.
"Food? You have any food?" said the youth, at once.

Two pairs of knowing eyes turned to him with cunning delight. They had him.

Sitting at the kitchen table, complete with chequered tablecloth and napkins, they were served juicy steaks and salad, more red wine and bread. Malaboca and Juarez sat mesmerised, watching the young foreigner scarfing down his food as if there were no tomorrow. The Irlandés went first for the solids and once through with them he proceeded to attack the cheap burgundy with an incredible thirst.

Looking at the foreigner with contentment Malaboca waited, lit a fifty-cent cigar, and then puffing magnanimously he let his mind wander through time, again wishing he was young again and could drink milk and eat cheese without suffering the intense, stabbing pains he had grown used to. Doctors had said he should take some pills. Him, taking pills! The mere thought of them was disgusting. But that is life. And some people can't drink wine, which is a lot worse.

Ugh! Bloody doctors and their pills.

Malaboca patted his full stomach, satisfied, while his eyes travelled from Juarez to the young man. The Irlandés looked restless, he thought. Best not push him. He will talk when he wants to talk and no sooner. It's pointless to hurry him, he reasoned, because this one can be trouble. I can see it in those eyes he tries to hide, but fails miserably because they shine like sapphires. He can be trouble. Yes. But he can also be a goldmine, so I must wait. I must wait.

The young man, finally full to his heart's content, barely managed to stifle a yawn before he could speak.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," he said quietly, politely, breaking the companionable silence that had settled in the room. "Don't know what came over me. This lovely repast was god sent and I would love to sit here and chat with you, but I'm feeling quite tired, really. So if you'll both excuse me I think I shall retire now and find somewhere comfortable where I can perch for the ni-"

"WAT?" said Juarez, blinking and the seemingly endless flow of words.

Malaboca smacked his friend on the shoulder and laughed. "No hablabas gringo, vos?" - Didn't you speak gringo?

Juarez merely shrugged, emptied his glass and looked back at the kid. "Wat is your name?" he said, pointing at the youth's chest. "I am Juarez, and this one beside me is Malaboca."

Malaboca smiled at the young man and stretched out his hand. "Ernesto 'Malaboca' Giralt Anchorena. Un gusto, pibe." - Pleasure to meet you, kid. He said with a flourish knowing his name never failed to impress since, after all, he was an Anchorena. Not one of the rich ones, regrettably, but who was to say? I will be rich, one day, he thought happily, his eyes sparkling with greed. With this kid's help, I will be rich very soon!

Malaboca kept a friendly smile on his thin lips as they shook hands. The youth remained silent.

"Wat is your name?" Juarez butted in, slurping a cup of recently brewed coffee he had just retrieved from the kitchen. His eyes darted from the older man to the younger one, assessing the situation and guessing what his friend was up to.

The young man ignored the question, and instead prompted. "Malaboca?" his Spanish sounded passable. Maybe he did speak it.

Juarez smiled through his even white teeth and gave the rough, imposing man a sideways glance. Then he directed his attention back to the youth. "Means 'foul mouth.' He swears all the time."

"¿Qué carajo están hablando, che?" - What the fuck are you talking about, eh? Malaboca inquired, inadvertently driving Jaurez's point home.

The foreigner smiled briefly, and his eyes lit with a momentary spark of confidence. "Un gusto, Señor Malaboca."

Malaboca beamed and threw an enormous arm around the youth's shoulders, his Spanish, in contrast, sounding loud and vibrant. "Good, Good! He learns quickly, this kid."

Juarez translated back and forwards as the conversation went on, several bottles were emptied and more cigars were smoked. It was late now, too dark outside, and the curfew, though not official, still fearfully obeyed. An army cot had been put up in a corner of the dinning room; a mat and a blanket lay on the floor by its side. Malaboca swung his legs over the side of his makeshift bed, let his heavy raw leather boots drop, and motioned for the young man to use the mat.

The Irlandés' face said all there was to be said about the sleeping arrangements, but as if knowing there was nothing much he could do about it, he stretched on the floor and threw the thin blanked over his lean body.

"Sorry kid, but my bones are older than yours," Malaboca said, pensively. Then looking at his old friend he asked, "Juarez, what did he say his name was?"

Juarez stood by the door, his soft mattress beckoning him from his room. "He didn't say."

Malaboca turned to the youth, who was now getting ready for a well-deserved sleep.
"Che, Irlandés. ¿Cómo te llamas?" - Hey, Irish. What are you called?"

The young man was half asleep and did not hear him. Malaboca, not one to be put off by such menial details, jerked him awake, ruffling his hair playfully and repeated the question. Several times. Finally the youth slapped the older man's hand away as he turned restlessly under the blanket.

"El Kilkenny Kid," the youth mumbled drowsily, and then in his mother tongue, "I'm the Kilkenny Kid. Now let me sleep, damn you!"

So he does understand Spanish, the little bastard! Malaboca laughed heartedly. I bet he also speaks a little, too. Ah! He's a cunning one, he is. Well, the Irlandés can choose any name he wants, for all I care. As long as he continues fighting as he did tonight.

The Irlandés had done that and more, fighting like a champion for weeks on end. His fragile, often gaunt figure tipped the scales in favour of whichever adversary stood in his path. But once in the ring, a compelling mixture of cleverness, speed, and precise strength beat each opponent and filled Malaboca's pockets with big, fat stacks of cash.

But after a while the city had turned too dangerous. The military, as fond of boxing and gambling as many civilians, would sometimes show up at the clubs. However, the price one paid if caught swindling them could go as high as an uncertain death. After all, many people had gone missing lately, and the finger of guilt always pointed at the authorities. Very few had been reported dead, or arrested, for that matter. They just disappeared.
Steadily, the weeks had turned into months. Winter into spring and then summer, and as Malaboca and the Irlandés grew richer their reputation increased proportionally. By mid February, half whispered tips on the young fighter's talent were as hot as the scorching pavement on the streets. Everyone who was in the know would willingly sell their mothers for some spare cash to place on the tills. This was obviously bad for business, so it was decided, quite unilaterally, that the now famous pair needed to go in search of greener pastures.

Some argued, however, that Malaboca and the Kilkenny Kid had fled on first train south with an unofficial death sentence on their backs, and an angry trigger-happy lieutenant biting at their heels. But those were just rumours. Buenos Aires, melancholic and vain like the most charming of cities, drew its blood from the river, its food from the countryside, and its poetry from rumours. The port city loved its legends.

In another part of the country, a train had reached a tattered station, barely giving time for the passengers to descend before resuming its torturous journey, amidst puffs and screeches from a diesel engine that had seen better days.

Some time later, as their bus skidded to a precarious halt on the wet pavement, the two partners jumped off in the battering rain. The Irlandés put a hand over his brow and peered into the distance. Nothing but trees, a muddy road, a tumbling down garage that hadn't been in business for some time, and a small building that looked like some sort of road-side café. Malaboca was a few yards ahead, not minding the rain or the wind. The young man followed, his now soaked clothes chilling his bones.

"Malaboca, where are we?" he shouted in passable Spanish. Getting no response but a dismissive wave, he swore in English, and quickened his pace. He caught up with the man as he walked into the café.

As they sat by the bar and ordered hot coffee and broth, Malaboca eyed the youth worriedly. He wasn't eating enough, and his constant colds were a bad sign. Maybe it was time to call it quits.

"Dale, termina eso," - Go on, finish it. Malaboca urged him, his finger gently pushing the spoon up, trying to look nonchalant. It was like trying to tame a wild, reckless stallion, Malaboca though not without some pride. One can't be too careful, and yet I can't give him too much freedom or he'll run away. The poor boy is scared but he won't admit it, of course. Neither would I.

Malaboca looked at his protégé. He wasn't eating and his eyes were glued on his own hands. Inspecting them as if astonished at the power they contained.

What to do with him? Can't have him tagging along for too long, but yet I can't leave him on his own here. He's not ready and it's too risky. He doesn't want to go back home, wherever that is. And won't go back to Rio where he says he lived before coming here, either. But neither will he stay put and do as I say unless he has no other choice. Now, for instance, he is broke again, even though I told him repeatedly not to spend all his money on girls, and the cinema, and in restaurants.

But he is young and his body eager, so naturally he must. Malaboca smiled, wishing he were so young again, although not so impetuous. What a fucking waste! He thought without malice. Looking at the ruffle-haired Irlandés again he patted him on the back and sighed. Yes, a fucking waste.

The Iralndés bridled, not yet used to the close personal contact and hating Malaboca's patronising tone. He put the bowl aside, half the food still there, and finished his coffee in one hurried gulp. The dessert, a slice of cheese with sweet potato jam, was cautiously left untouched. It was only then that the young man's eyes scanned his surroundings.
"What town is this?" he asked the skinny barman, aping Malaboca's Spanish with the heavy Italian intonation that was the port city's trademark brogue.

The man smiled, delighted to be the first to see the foreigner and already embellishing the anecdote in his head, and pointed at a sign hanging right outside the door. The letters in the wooden panel were barely visible from the inside.

Bienvenido a Lobos, they read.

"Wolves?" the Irlandés asked in Spanish. "What kind of a name is that?"

"It's the name Don José, the founder, picked," replied the bar tender, his pride hurt. "It's a name we're proud of. Our football team has never lost. Ever!"

Malaboca made a sneering sound at this, his white teeth appearing in a scornful smile. He loved fighting about football.

"No diga, jefe." - you don't say, boss. Sipping his wine, he winked conspiringly at the young man and assumed an innocent air as he spat his venom. "What league do they play in? I never heard of them."

"What do you know about football!" the bar tender exploded. "Our's is the best team in the area, you just ask around."

Sensing trouble and before Malaboca could say something offensive, the Irlandés interceded. "I never doubted it, boss," he said with a placating smile.

The barman muttered an angry "Porteños!" and turned his back on the pair.

"It's not a bad place, this one, Irlandés." Malaboca said, smiling mischievously. "But the people have nasty manners, no?"
Lobos, as Malaboca knew, was only three hundred miles away from Buenos Aires but in the right direction, the underdeveloped one. The town's main features were the marble bust of its founder standing proudly in the central square, the rotary-club, and the bar-grill hotel where they had taken two rooms. Also, Lobos boasted a small gymnasium where amateur fights were organized on Fridays and doubled as a nightclub after two in the morning. Only after four was it allowed to function as a brothel. Its owner was a very prosperous man indeed.

It was Thursday and the partners had been sitting idle for two days pretending they didn't know each other, two strangers meeting in a desolate town. The con was working beautifully; the roadside barman, now two thousand pesos richer, had been instructed to keep his trap shut. At the hotel, Malaboca had presented his credentials as an architect and the Irlandés, with a disarming smile, had gained the instant favour of the robust, matronly landlady.
After a monstrous lunch at the bar, they had shared a few drinks and chatted with some of the locals. Later they had quarrelled, badly. Malaboca couldn't even remember how it had started, but now they were facing each other in the cold night air. The empty road beckoning danger, the vast bareness of the pampas offering nothing but the comfort of knowing there would be no prying eyes. At least, Malaboca thought, it will be a private funeral.

The old man eyed his opponent warily.

With his shining knife at the ready, the Irlandés stood with his long legs wide apart, trying to stabilize his body. Not an easy task for someone who had downed two full bottles of red wine. Malaboca moved further away, allowing the young man space to manoeuvre without being forced to strike. This is stupid! he thought; the Irlandés needs to be fit for tomorrow night and not mucking about at this hour. I shouldn't have allowed him to drink so much, but how to tell him anything when he's so bloody stubbo-

"Barney!" shouted the Irlandés, his voice low and threatening.

Surprised at the sudden outburst, he looked at the young man, trying to make eye contact in an attempt to cool him down. But the youth's stare was wavering, his legs increasingly unsteady and his breath coming in short, deep gasps. The glistening blade in his hand, however, was rock solid. Deadly.

"Volve para adentro, pibe, no seas pelutudo," he warned one last time. - Go back inside, kid, don't be a fucking idiot.

The Irlandés shook with rage. "You arrrr not leavin' me alone heeere, Barney," he slurred out.
Malaboca sighed tiredly and readied his weapon, the fine ivory grip smooth and silky, the blade as sharp as his wit. He knew the young man could stand a chance, simply because his current inebriated state diminished his fear. He had no idea what had set the youngster in such a surge of rage. But one thing was sure; he didn't have time now to find out.

Malaboca looked into the foreigner's eyes, as blue as the sky, the flag, and the sea he had seen only once many years ago, and gauged his enemy's resolve. His eyes are not like the soothing ocean I remember, he thought. There are storms in them and a curse fouler than the words he's saying. And he has a filthy mouth, too! I can tell even though he's drunk and speaking that blasted English again.

His musings were cut short as the Irlandés lunged forwards with a ferocious cry and his knife thirsty for blood. Malaboca evaded him easily.

"Quieto, gallito. Quieeeeeeto," he said dangerously. - Steady, boy. Steaaaady.

Now the duel had started, and as Malaboca shielded his right side with his own knife, his left grip tightened on the jacket that bonded him and the young man together. Each duellist would pull and let go of the strong garment, never completely releasing it for that was the rule and part of the dance, part of the tradition, and part of what made men of honour worthy of the title. One couldn't simply run away from it.

Malaboca exercised a second evasive move and the Irlandés faltered as his body followed his knife striking the clean country air. He turned around swiftly, and Malaboca saw the fear in his eyes. A cornered man waiting for a certain, deadly, blow.
But the strike refused to come and that infuriated the foreigner even more, as he slowly came to terms with the evident superiority of his rival. The youth swiped his brow with the back of his hand, breathing deeply.

The Irlandés spoke hastily and angrily and the old man could see unshed tears lurking in his eyes. He merely smiled at youth, not understanding the words, and jerked the piece of cloth to spring him to attention. 

"Por qué no hablas en cristiano, che?" - Why don't you speak Christian, eh?

It amazed Malaboca the speed at precision of the next strike and he was barely able to avoid the dangerous blade that dived in the cloth of the jacket, dangerously close to both their hands. For a moment, Malaboca lost his temper. Fool! He could have hurt us both and then how could I play the guitar and sing and dance? Let alone work! It's time the cocky bastard learned a lesson, and it's better that a friend should teach him some manners. He is too used to winning, every single time he wins. But now? Now he cannot win, because if he does I die, and I have much to live for yet.

Malaboca yanked on the jacket once more and brought the skinny youth towards him, his knife nicking the youth's forearm. His next words were whispered, rather than spoken. "Cool down, kid, and start fucking thinking or I'll be feeding the dogs with your remains, get it?" he said in gutter Spanish.

The Irlandés remained unmoved, not feeling his injury or the blood that was beginning to taint his shirt. His jaw tightened and he pushed he older man to get some distance in between them. But Malaboca was heavy as an ox, and just as stubborn. "What the hell is wrong with you, kid?" he shouted, more angry now, his patience thinning.

"You're not leaving me here, Barney!" the youth repeated in English.

"What are you calling me, son? Barney who?" was the confused response. Malaboca shielded his knife in the air, still unwilling to engage in a full attack. "Talk to me in Castilian, you fuck!"

That last sentence seemed to have struck home. The Irlandés blinked. "¿Qué?"

Malaboca's lips tightened in the semblance of a smile. "Menos mal!" he said to himself. And then to the young man: "Ahora, decime que mierda te pasa, pibe? Querés que te saque las palabras a cuchilladas, o qué? -- Now, Tell me what the hell is wrong with you, kid. Do you want me to knife the words out of you, or what?"

The youth seemed to be struggling some demon within, shaking his head. A tortured smile appeared on his face, amid the two-day stubble that was but a shadow. Malaboca had seen a lot of faces like this in the city, all hiding from an awful truth that was too disgusting to accept. The Irlandés might be fighting a different battle, Malaboca thought, but he is just like the rest of them. Courageous, yes. But also scared and lacking the means to win his war.

Around them the sky started to fall down. Heavy rain drenched the fading road and gusts of wind howled in the faraway trees. Malaboca looked at the very inviting light of the hotel, shining like a beacon in the mist, and attempted a conciliatory movement.

"Where are you going?" shouted the Irlandés menacingly, the rain not reaching his booze filled brain.

"Adentro" - inside. Malaboca replied, "and you'd better come with me if you want to fight tomorrow. And if you want win."

Malaboca let go of the jacket, turning his back to the young man and motioning for him to follow. His knife was still hanging loosely by his side, but ready to strike if need arose. Unmoved by the appeasing gesture, the Irlandés replied with a sharp move, jumping like a panther on a defenceless prey. The sharp edge of his dagger now skilfully placed under the old guapo's neck.

"I'm not fighting! Not anymore," he said, his Spanish slow but clear. "Not if you're leaving me to rot in this stinking hole of a town once you have your money."

Malaboca swallowed, hard. So this is what this is all about! But I told him I am only going to Buenos Aires for a few days to get further fights sorted since it cannot be done from here. There's no need for the two of us to travel. Especially not now that the barman's daughter, who came to his room last night when they thought I was asleep, has promised me she'll take good care of him. And he will need the comfort of her young slender arms after tomorrow's fight. He'll be up against an experienced fighter, and he might get a broken bone or two. Nothing serious, I hope.

He was smiling when he spoke, even if the dagger was painfully close. "Listen Irlandés, I told you I'm coming back in five days, are you deaf or are you just plain dumb?"

"I've heard that before," the youth replied, his brain confused. "Barney said that las-"

"I don't care about any Barney!" Malaboca exploded and forcefully shoved the Irlandés and his knife away, the jacket that bonded them together preventing an escape. Still, the young man staggered and as one of his legs gave, he fell on the ground quite unceremoniously. Malaboca stood enormously at his feet, his face completely shadowed. Only a flicker of light that came from within the darkness gave any indication his eyes had squinted. He made sure the young man got the full blast of that stare.

"You're staying here, and that's that!" he roared authoritatively, "I have arranged for you to keep your room until Tuesday. I will come and collect you then, is that clear?"

Malaboca never knew how it happened. He felt a dark, revengeful shape flying towards him; his eyes had missed it. And then there was the pain. A freezing wave that shot from the nerve endings on his side and then reached his brain as a paralysing shock. He stared up again, this time registering the startling blue eyes opening wide, unbelieving.

&nbsp"Noooooo!" the Irlandés shouted, his hand suddenly dropping the dagger as if it were scalding hot. Blood was trickling from the blade, turning to red-rimmed mud as it hit the dusty ground.

stared briefly at the young man's icy eyes before dropping to his knees. He gasped for air. "Hijo de una gran puta!" he muttered incredulously. - Fucking son of a bitch!

The youth was on his knees and beside him in a flash, the realisation of his act sobering him up instantly.

"Oh, Dear God," he said in English. Then switched to Spanish to address the older man. "Can you stand up? I'll get you to the doctor's. He'll fix you up, and-"

"You stupid son of a bitch, you had to win this one too, didn't you?" Malaboca said without malice, struggling to get up, his hand on his side.

"They'll fix you up, you'll see," the Irlandés repeated, more for his own comfort than the old man's.

Malaboca grunted his response, but threw a heavy arm round the youth's skinny shoulders. The weight was almost too much for the young man, but he managed to move the both of them forward a few steps. A harsh light blinded him and he froze barely making out the shape of the barman who was pointing his torch at them.

"Ya llame a los canas! Asi que no intentes nada, pibe," he warned. - I've called the coppers; so don't try anything stupid, kid.

Malaboca chuckled, and motioned for the youth to stop. "Now you've done it, boy."

The Irlandés stood still, uncertain what to do next. Malaboca, pulled from his shirtsleeve motioning for him to lower him down on the ground.

"You'd better run, kid" he said, his voice sad.

"No, I'll take you to the doctor."

Malaboca grunted in pain as one of his hands reached his inner vest pocket. Noticing the blood in the fine garment, he swore inwardly. Such a nice vest it is! Perhaps I can have the landlady clean it up for me and it won't be ruined. No use trying with the shirt, though. But I'll deduct that from this fucking bastard's winnings. Oh, I almost forgot... he'll have no winnings this time. No. But it's just as well; it was time we parted company anyway.

"Here," he said, pulling a fat stack of bills from the inside of the vest and giving them to the Irlandés. The youth shook his head in denial, his eyes pleading. Malaboca looked up, and then at the light coming from the bar, the barman was approaching with a gun in his hand.

"Take it, it's your share," he said raggedly. "Go on, those military bastards will be here in no time. And we don't want to annoy the fuckers, do we?"

"Where do I go?" the Irlandés asked as he started to get up, "I don't know this place, Malaboca."

"Then go home, kid," the older man replied, his eyelids dropping tiredly. "It's time you went back home, don't you think? Gringos like you don't belong in this land."

"Che, pibe! Deja al Viejo en paz, oís?" the barman shouted. - Hey, kid. Leave the old man alone, you hear?

"He's hurt!" the Irlandés shouted back.

"Go, kid" Malaboca said, putting a hand on the youth's shoulder, and standing shakily.

"Are you going to be alright?" the young man asked, swamped with guilt.

"I'll live. Did you think a twat like you could do any serious harm to a fine man like myself?" The last words were mixed with grunts of pain as Malaboca finally managed to stand straight. His left hand, still wrapped in the jacket pressed tightly against his wound to stop the bleeding.

The Iralndés looked at the empty road ahead and the murky landscape that offered no other sanctuary that darkness. Malaboca felt him shiver, and wasn't sure if it was from the cold. The wind was still blowing viciously, but the rain had ceased to fall, leaving the ground behind their feet muddy and slippery. Malaboca gave the young man a gentle push, encouraging him to set sail. The light in those blue eyes, long ago robbed of their innocence, cast him a silent farewell.

A siren was heard in the distance, although no car could be seen yet.

"Run, my friend," Malaboca said. "And remember no one is your friend in the City. Don't expect any help, or a hand, or a favour. That's what El Mudo used to sing." A faint smile, and then a small pat on the youth's cheek. "Just get on the first plane home, and get out of here."

The Irlandés took a few steps in direction of the bus stop, just a few hundred yards north. With any luck, the night coach would be here soon, and then the train. Malaboca saw the young man turn around and the faint, grateful smile that appeared in his face. Malaboca lifted a fist, and smiled back.

The Irlandés ran. Fast like the wind.

The old man remained looking at the road for a while, until his strength left him and he his eyes closed involuntarily.

The doctor arrived promptly, dressed in his pyjamas. The military police arrived some half hour later. By now, Malaboca was sure; his young friend would be on this way to Buenos Aires. Not yet safe, but with any luck he would be better off. He didn't regret for a minute having given the youth most his money, nor it crossed his mind that he might not be able to pay the good doctor for his services. He knew he had enough to pay for the hotel, and the wine.

I'll need the wine, but not the fortune. What does an old man like me need with that kind of money, anyway?

The End.

Notes and glossary.

: The vast, rich plains of central and south Argentina. Roaming cattle, large crop-fields and the like. Driving through them can be really boring, just flat land as far as the eye can see. But as someone said once, 'you need only to stop the car. Then it's magic.'
Guapo: Literally, it means 'handsome.' But the adjective was used in the late 30's through the 50's to describe the men, dandies, and rascals alike. Everybody who wore a tilted hat, a handkerchief neatly folded on the breast pocket of their suits, and knew how to Tango, and all that implied. Guapos were to the city what Gauchos were to the countryside. Mythical, brave, chivalrous, reckless. Of course, their living counterparts were all of this things and none of them... it's in the eye of the beholder, really.
Facón: a knife, similar to a dagger but larger. Used by guapos and gauchos alike. For eating, fighting, and as tools. Your average "Rambo" knife... without the modern refinements.
The swear words: that I won't do. You figure them out by yourselves!
Soldati and Palermo Viejo: two neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, in two opposite ends of town, and as different as they could ever be. The former poor, dirty and a bit dangerous. The later rich and pretty, it has parks, lakes, the polo pitch and the racetrack among other features.
Pibe: slang for boy, kid.
Che: well, it means many things and none. But we use it all the time. Why do you think Ernesto "Che" Guevara was called that? ;-)
El Mudo: literally, 'the mute.' A nickname for the legendary Tango singer Carlos Gardel who died in 1935, but they claim "sings better everyday" It's used by opposition, obviously.