Date: Thursday, 11 September, 2003
From: "Ade" <>
Following the talk about David Beckam last month,and in the midst of a very interesting discussion on character and dialogue, here's another bit of fic.
Thanks to Lauryn for the edits and for providing the title.
Nancy, you may archive.
Usual Desclaimers apply. This story is a sort of prequel to All Steele at Dawn. It is split only not to make the posts too lengthy, and its best read in HTML for formatting.
By Adriana
His chest heaving with exertion, Fleco took a moment's rest tying up his shoelaces, undoing them, and tying them up again. He needed a break badly and it was beginning to show. But his team was down 1-2, and it was no time to let his body get the better of him. Patting his brow dry with his sleeve, Fleco took a couple of deep breaths, cleaning his lungs, and chased after the ball.
It was Sunday afternoon in Barracas, South-east Buenos Aires, and the air smelled of football. And of barbecue, even in the afternoon when the coals had turned to ashes on the hundreds of half-oil barrel grills grills that populated street corners, alleys and parks. The mesmerizing scent of food still lingered, and more than few were tempted by yet another choripan on their way to the stadium. And, why not, another glass of wine to tune up the senses and sharpen the wit that nurtured rhymes and songs.
The finals were two weeks away, with River Plate and Independiente sharing first place on the table at thirty-three points each, and Boca Juniors one point below that. Boca and River would clash the following week in a superclasico that promised an exuberant match. Sadly, the derby was nearly always a guarantee of trouble, Fleco knew, and these days trouble was not exactly regarded with tolerance.
Finishing up his right boot for the second time, he sighed and looked around briefly. This was nice. His friends were here, and yet none of that tense atmosphere that seemed to surround them at college these days was present. Universities, the military government claimed, were only a breeding ground for montoneros, Marxists, and anarchists. Knowledge was a dangerous thing, indeed, to those who flaunted their ideals a bit too loudly. Fleco shut his eyes tight, clearing his mind and shaking away the image of the two empty desks they had now in his classroom. He stood up and focused on the match, because none of that nonsense existed here. It was Sunday, he told himself decisively. And there was nothing but the ball, the skill, and the goal line.
"Ojo a la derecha!" Fleco heard someone say and raised his eyes to the sky. When the ball landed by his left foot, he looked up. He analysed the field in a millisecond, and with seemingly all the time in the world and made a long pass. The ball reached his centre forward with the precision of a guided missile, but the man's first touch kick went wide on the right goal post. He'd been heavy on the instep.
"Shit!" Fleco muttered to himself, heading back to the centre-circle.
Another chance was lost and it was getting dark fast. With his ID papers at home, he couldn't stay out. They'd have to score soon if they wanted to win this match. But it was late July and freezing cold, and between runny noses and stiff toes the game was not much to look at, at least judging by their one and only spectator.
He was there again. And again he stood, with his canvas bag and his thin sweater, with his thin scarf around his neck, and his boxing gloves hanging over his right shoulder. Again he remained silent and uninvolved, his lean frame against the sun, as if the antics of the players in front of him were invisible and inaudible. Why was he here?
El Irlandés seemed to have sensed the scrutiny and, if possible, withdrew even further behind his scarf. He pressed his small transistor radio to his ear and kept watching the game.
Fleco cantered past him moments later: "¿Cómo va?" - what's the score?
"Uno- cero, gana Central," replied El Irlandés slowly. - Central wins, one- nil.
Fleco frowned at the foreign accent, nodded in thanks and ran off. Boca was loosing. Damn, and double damn! Down in the midfield, Rolo and Nando, both on his team, were ferociously fighting for possession of the ball with three of the opposite side. They were dancing around them in tight little circles, threading and weaving the ball between and around their legs. Fleco flanked one of their midfielders, levelling the numbers. Nando used the distraction to make a long pass to the sweeper, who was just coming up on the right wing. But his cross was too narrow, and sweeper not fast enough. The ball went out.
"Boca scored on the counter-strike. Game's even," El Iralndés informed Fleco in Spanish as he retrieved the ball.
"Yeah?" he asked, smiling from ear to ear.
Fleco threw in and gave the other man a quick glance. He stood a bit taller than he, and was lanky and thin. He didn't look like a boxer. Around Fleco's own age, he had the same dark blue eyes and jet-black hair, but his skin was milky white and not tanned like Fleco's from countless summers spent at the beach. "Yanqui?" Fleco asked him.
"No," El Irlandés replied.
Fleco nodded, waiting for more. "You don't talk much, do you?" he asked at last.
El Irlandés raised his eyebrows, as if the thought had never occurred to him. "I don't know that many words, yet" he said.
And Fleco went back to the pitch.
The following Sunday Fleco saw the foreigner before the other man saw him. Canvas bag, gloves, and radio by his ear, he was walking briskly down the park lane. Fleco hung his clothes on the 'Do not step on the grass' sign under which all grass had long ago been trampled into oblivion, and stared at the man out of the corner of his eye. El Irlandés slowed down, feeling eyes on him, and looked up at the intruder. Fleco grimaced at the sight of a nasty black eye and a swollen, cracked lower lip, and nodded a greeting. El Irlandés mimicked the gesture and promptly resumed his former pace.
Boca and River, the two giants of Argentine football, born of the same seed but bitterly opposed by history, would not start playing for another three hours. A full hour went by before El Irlandés returned. It was half time in the potrero at the park and Fleco's team was getting a nice, all around beating. At Four-nil and showing no signs of recovering, morale was low.
Sitting on the ground, Fleco slapped the dust off of his legs, a futile task that helped relieve some of the frustration. He grabbed a bottle of water and rinsed his hands and face before drinking. A pair of boxing gloves landed beside him in the dirt, then a long fingered hand placed a radio carefully on the ground.
"You a boxer, then?" asked Fleco, glancing up at El Irlandés.
"You could say that."
"How's that?" Fleco wanted to know.
"Are you a football player?"
"Hell, no," Fleco replied, laughing. "No, no, no," another short laugh, "But, yes, I suppose I am."
The foreigner shrugged, resting his case.
"I see what you mean," Fleco said.
A chilly squall blew on the trees and from up there it spiralled down, making funny little swirls with dry leaves and dust. Fleco closed his eyes to avoid getting dirt in them, and pulled a thick woollen pullover over his head. Clutching his knees to his chest, he chanced another look at the foreigner.
"Aren't you cold?"
El Irlandés looked down with his good eye and said, "I'm used to it."
"If you say so," Fleco replied dubiously, and hugged his knees tighter for good measure. Used to it. What was he, a polar bear?
When another gust of wind hit him on the back making his sweated skin turn to ice, Fleco turned once more towards the foreigner to verify the man's words. Face to the wind, his eyes shut and his hair combed back by the freezing breeze, he almost seemed to be enjoying it. Crazy, Fleco thought. But then again, he had always liked crazy. "We're going to La Lucerna to watch the game later. They have a big television set," he offered with a smile, "You want to come?"
The eyes of El Irlandés flickered with distrust. "I'll think about it."
But El Irlandés did not come. And Fleco knew he wouldn't because on his way over to the bar he had seen him practicing a few moves in the park, shadow boxing in the afternoon sun. He had jumped, ducked, evaded and punched like a man possessed. And Fleco had noticed his feet were fast and his waist clever. Even if he didn't know the first thing about boxing, it had seemed to Fleco that after that day nobody would be able to connect a punch with the foreigner again. And not get what was coming to them.
It was sometime later that Fleco left a bar that still swelled with pride. Inside, dozens of throats still sang somewhat atonally, of Boca's victory over its archrival. The glow that escaped from the windows nearly made up for the lack of public lighting on the street, but no one saw Fleco's shadow disappear beyond a shut down flower kiosk. Nor did they see him walk, with legs he wished were steadier, towards the park.
His body clad in the blue and gold of Boca Juniors, Fleco tightened his grip on a box of half cold, leftover pizza and ploughed on. The silent park stared back him. With a blinking, red traffic light it encouraged him onwards. Further up, by the pitch black trees where he had seen him last, Fleco found El Irlandés dozing on a bench. His head cradled in the nook of his arm, protecting his face from the wind, he did not look happy to be disturbed. Fleco sat on the opposite side of the bench and placed the pizza in between them. Neither man moved for a couple of minutes.
"¿Quien ganó?" the foreigner asked at last.
"Boca, 2-1."
"And Independiente drew," Fleco was fast to add, a smile creeping uninvited to his face.
El Irlandés didn't say anything and Fleco wondered if he understood, or rather, if he was at all interested. He glanced quickly to the side but couldn't see the eyes behind the curtain of black hair. El Irlandés had rested his chin on his chest and crossed his arms around him.
Taking the hint, Fleco stood up. "I'd better go, I have class tomorrow."
El Irlandés nodded in understanding and Fleco walked away, leaving his pizza behind. As he walked the remaining distance towards the traffic lights, the wind picked up. To the east, over the river, there was a crack of thunder. Fleco scanned the sky, frowning at the stars. It was clear now, but there would be rain before the night was over. He knew it from the way the earth smelled, and the way the birds were quiet but the crickets restless. He could sense the rain on his skin long before it fell, and two red lights came and went as Fleco stood undecided under the streetlight.
The pizza was all but gone when Fleco got to the solitary park bench.
His long legs stretched in front of him and his arms still hugging his chest for warmth, El Irlandés looked up with questioning eyes. "You didn't want it back, did you?" he asked with his mouth half full.
Fleco shook his head, grateful for the darkness. He was blushing. Embarrassment quickly gave way to annoyance as he reminded himself he was not intruding. Fleco frowned. He was, after all, only doing the man a favour, wasn't he? He wasn't meddling, he was-
"What?" El Irlandés asked through his cracked lip.
Fleco took a deep breath and counted to ten. It was the way he had said it. That quiet, self-assured manner that seemed to say the man had all the right to eating his pizza, listening to his favourite team, resting in his park-
"What?" El Irlandés repeated in an icy tone, sitting up and fixing his blue eyes on the mirroring blue that were so evidently fighting for control.
Fleco finally looked away. "Listen," he began before he could think about it enough to regret it, "My parents will probably kill me for this, but you can stay on the living room sofa tonight, if you want to. It'll rain, is all."
El Irlandés looked at him for what it seemed an eternity. Fleco couldn't decide whether he was surprised, offended, or pleased. The man's face was unreadable.
"I'm waiting for someone," El Irlandés said at last. "But, thank you."
Fleco silently sighed in relief and quickly replied, "Yeah, well, no problem." He was turning around when El Irlandés stood up and after cleaning his hand on his trouser leg, offered it to him.
"Mick," he said.
Fleco took the hand and they shook firmly. "Ignacio. Ignacio Fernandez O'Donnell. My friends call me Fleco," he said.
There was a bemused spark in the foreigner's eyes. "Good to meet you."
They sized each other up for a second, Fleco smiling insecurely, the foreigner stern. When El Irlandés finally sat back on his bench Fleco took it as his cue to leave. Digging his hands in his pockets, he said, "See you on Sunday. Right?"
"You know what they say," replied El Irlandés without looking up, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans."
Not altogether sure of what make of that, Felco muttered a soft "Buenas noches," and turned to go. Waiting for the traffic lights, he looked back towards the trees and saw the lanky figure of El Irlandés standing up to join the much smaller, slender, and feminine one that had arrived from the opposite end of the park. Fleco saw how El Irlandés meekly accepted the coat she wrapped around him, and did not protest her tight embrace, nor her kiss. The traffic light turned green and he smiled. His new friend would not be caught in the rain tonight.
to be cont....
To Part 2