The cool blue room had two single beds against the far wall, a circular glass patio table by the windows beside the door, and an oddly shaped gray leather couch that, after a moment, Jack placed as the bench seat from some ancient guzzler. The contours indicated seats for three—though the center would have to hold a child—and seatbelts cascaded down either side to lay their buckles on the floor like bones. Micah brought the chairs in and set them at the table, then pulled a glossy photograph from a black case and dropped it on the glass. Jo closed the door behind them and held back, letting the two men sit.
“Do you know who this man is?” Micah asked. He tapped the photo with his finger as though he needed to point out which one he meant.
Jack looked. It was Che Guevara.
“I don’t get it,” Jack said.
The picture was taken at a high resolution, and everything in the frame was in focus. Che was standing with a group of men, all wearing military green and the red- starred, black berets he made famous. They were laughing, and one of them was pointing to something in the background. The land around them was smooth but rocky, like the bed of a dry river, and it banked beyond them, climbing into tufts of dead grass and ending in a large, cement wall that reached almost to the top of the frame. Jack looked hard at the wall. He knew that wall.
“What is this?”
“It’s what it looks like,” Micah said.
“That can’t be, because what it looks like is Che Guevara standing in front of a wall built fifty years after his death.”
Micah smiled broadly, brought a bottle of tequila up from below the table, and poured out four-finger shots into two blue metal cups. “What would you say if I told you that el Che is alive and well, and getting ready to help people organize, help people rise up against ImPass and reunite the land?”
Jack accepted the cup he was offered and took a deep draw. He didn’t drink much anymore, and the burn in his throat felt strange and dangerous.
“I’d say you were full of shit.”
“And you’d be reasonable in so doing,” Micah said. He slapped his hand against the table, causing it to squeak against its metal base. “But that’s what I’m telling you, Jack, and it’s the truth.”
Jack looked at Jo defensively, as though she’d side with him, as though she’d help him explain to this man where he’d gone wrong, how Che Guevara couldn’t be alive, and perhaps more importantly how, even if he was, they’d come to the wrong man for help. Jo took a step forward, but hovered, directionless, before collapsing on the ersatz couch and shrugging her shoulders. There was a loud crash of falling pots from Desmonda’s place in back, and Jo met Jack’s eyes.
“It’s not the original Che, of course,” she said, as though intentionally missing the point.
“So he’s not el Che, really. He’s more like uno Che.”
“Sure, sure.” Micah said. “He’s a genetic copy. A clone. But he’s been born and raised to be like the original in every way possible.”
Jack took another draw of tequila. “Uno Che,” he repeated. A small change, but significant. Without the definite article, Jack thought, the name was robbed of its power. What good is being merely one man? One man can do nothing. The man, however, is something else entirely. The man has answers, power. That, and the stupid phrase contained the word “noche,” which meant night. U noche. U night. Unite? He felt a flare of anger. The only thing stupider than this being a joke, he decided, was it being true. He looked down at the picture again, at Che’s big, toothy grin. His expression bordered on goofy. Jack tried to think of a picture of Che smiling, and couldn’t. He just didn’t seem like the smiling type. Surely he’d smiled now and then, but there were more important things to be done, when he was alive. Serious things.
“That’s for you,” Micah said, nodding at the picture still in Jack’s hands. Jack smelled smoke.
“So you’re Seminole,” Jack said. He tried to force some tone of accusation into this rhetorical statement, as though by acknowledging his ancestry then and there, the man would be forced to see the folly in his mission, whatever it was, and abandon it in the name of his elders.
Of course, Jack had no way of knowing what this might mean to someone who actually knew about his elders. And sure enough, Micah didn’t see the accusation.
“Damn right,” he said.
“I’ve just never seen a black Seminole before.”
What Jack didn’t mention was the fact that, outside his father, he’d never seen another Seminole, period.
If Micah was offended by the remark, he didn’t show it. “My family fought against Jackson’s men in Florida,” he said matter-of-factly, “then with Grant’s men against the Cherokee in West Texas.”
Jack raised his cup, nodding an obligatory salute, and Micah continued.
“They had us fighting every which way,” he said. “Before deciding, that is, to shit on our contract after the wars and leave us to rot at Fort Clark. What about your people?”
Jack thought about the many times he’d asked his father how they’d wound up in Arivaca. Though he seemed indifferent to it when Jack was a boy, there was a wealth of knowledge in the man that suggested an earlier interest, and if pressed, he could recite the body counts from some of those early battles against Jackson’s army. But before long he’d lose interest, or just go silent.
“Do either of you smell smoke?” asked Jo.
Micah sniffed the air, and frowned, but Jack smelled it too, and stronger than before. He stood and it was stronger still.
“There’s something burning alright,” he said.
He tried to follow it to a source, walking toward the back of the room, but a furious knock on the door interrupted him. Micah snatched the picture up and dropped it in his case, and Jo moved slowly to see who it was. The knocking came again, this time even louder.
“Miss Jo! Miss Jo!” It was Desmonda. “Miss Jo, fuego! Hay un fuego!”
Jo opened the door, and the old woman beckoned with her arms, entreating them to come outside. “Rápido!”
Jo left the room, and Micah looked at Jack as though for an answer, as though there were still something to discuss.
“We better see what’s up,” Jack said. He walked past Micah and joined the women outside. They were standing twenty feet from the building, looking toward it, and as he left the room he could hear the sharp crackle of flames overhead and see the light across their faces. He looked up; the roof was on fire.
“Do you have anything inside?”
“Just a bag,” Jo said, stepping forward.
Jack blocked her passage, then ran back inside where Micah was quickly gathering his things. The smoke was visible now, the fire loud in the room. Micah handed Jack a bag and grabbed the rest, then hurried outside, where he got in the car and pulled it back to a safe distance from the burn.
Jack turned to Desmonda. “Did you call Hank?”
“Si,” the old woman said, her eyes locked on the growing flames.
It didn’t matter. Without a drop of moisture in the air the fire spread, quickly covering the roof. The adobe walls would crack and chip, but remain standing. Everything between them would burn. It was already too late to save the place, thought Jack, and the fire would be over in minutes. They watched in silence as it flared red, orange and yellow against the black western night sky, a second sunset.
Micah, however, seemed undaunted. He quickly disappeared around the side of the building and came back with an armful of pictures, which he laid down at Desmonda’s feet, then disappeared again.
Jack was impressed.
Jo put her arm around Desmonda.
“The stove…” said the Innkeeper shakily.
Over the years, Jack had seen the careless way she cooked, her stove beneath a bare wooden awning. The next time Micah returned he was coughing, and the clothing he laid down was singed. He shook his head sadly, as though to say it was over.
“Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?” asked Jack.
Desmonda said she’d stay with her son Prince, but Micah, thinking the question was for him, answered too. They didn’t, he said, speaking for both himself and Jo.
When Hank arrived with the foam truck the fire had already largely burned out. The entire roof was gone, and the furniture was smoldering. He stood before each room in his bright yellow protective gear, shooting the thick, white substance over the beds, the old car seats, and whatever else still smoked. Then he went around to see if there was anything to put out in Desmonda’s own room in back. Jack watched the man go, pulling the hose loose from the foam truck’s spool, then turned his attention to the softly weeping old woman. Even though he’d all but predicted this moment, Jack had the feeling he’d just witnessed something deeply unfair. But it wasn’t the action itself, or the concrete situation in which the action took place; it was the very elements necessary for the situation to arise, these basic, abstract facts, normally unseen, which now left his vision clouded with their smoke.
Micah, who moments before had been spinning his outrageous yarn, now stood with Jo trying to comfort the woman, and when he saw Jack looking he reached into a bag at his feet and pulled out a half-full bottle of tequila. He took a swig and then handed it over.
“There isn’t much room at my place,” Jack said to Micah, taking the bottle. “But you’re welcome to it.”