Hopping into a taxi to my favorite eating spot, I had to fight the urge to look behind me, wondering if my pursuers had their own car or were taxiing as well. Embers was quite a distance to the northwest, but since the first visit, when I’d realized they made the best burgers in town, I’d been a steady customer, and now I wasn’t about to eat anywhere else when I could help it.
Unfortunately the restaurant didn’t open for another hour; since when, dammit? Not knowing what else to do, certainly not going to another place to eat, I wandered down the block, where I came across a movie theater, for some reason also closed on a Sunday afternoon; ditto the bookstore. Damn siesta system, I grumbled as I wondered why this practice also extended to the weekends.
Turning the corner, looking for any way to pass the time, as if by divine guidance I came across an arcade. Even more surprising, they had games I grew up on, like Asteroids, Centipede, Submarine, and particularly Galaga. Despite not having played for so long, I vowed to get the highest score in Galaga on my first try, and I did, but that mostly spoke to the non-formidableness of the competition.
Next I placed my coins on the side of the air hockey table, signifying I had winners. It was a little known fact–okay, no one knew–that while I had played this game all over the world, I’ve never lost a series. The closest was at Disneyland, where I had to come back from a 6-3 score (takes 7 to win) down two games in a best of seven, yet had managed to save the day and earn a free dinner for myself and my British friend in town for a visit. I’d also won a big bet in the arcade at the Luxor in Las Vegas, leading people to wonder what I was doing in an arcade in Vegas, on my only trip there, but that’s another story.
Once I got to play I just hit the puck back for a while, until I felt my oats–wherever that saying came from–and loudly announced the next shot would score. During snorts of disbelief my opponent set up his best defensive position–yes, I gave him as much time as he wanted–and then proceeded to dismay him completely with a double bank.
After that I played some Grand Prix, particularly enjoying the track where I’d learned to drive, as well as the streets of Monte Carlo, but that seemed like cheating, so I moved on to the more exciting Kill-the-Mutants shoot-’em-up. This was a three player game, and I found myself facing off against two teenage girls, which sent shivers up my spine despite my having shooting medals from the Marina Corps.
All three off us shot at the same time, and lasted about the same before being shot ourselves. Checking the scores, I saw that the pretty one at the end had done pretty well, and since I was actually familiar with these weapons, I’d performed excellently. But then I saw the scores of the girl next to me and was completely appalled to find she’d beaten my already higher score than anyone else had ever achieved!
The man in charge of the arcade came by to give her a prize while commenting, “On the subway scene, you’re not supposed to shoot the puppy dogs, just the rabid ones. And that little old lady wasn’t going to do anything to you.”
Suspicious, I checked the ammunition supply; she’d used four times as much as me! Apparently she’d mistook the sniper rifle for an automatic. That explained a lot, but it only led to what had to be the most chilling rapid-fire giggles I’d ever heard. . .
So into the game had I been that I’d neglected the clock, and once I checked I knew the grill had to be on full heat by now; I didn’t run back to Embers, no matter what witnesses might say. Once seated and sipping an orange refreshment, order made, I looked around to make sure the decor was exactly the same, in particular finding the old sign over the doorway that read “All our hamburgers are made from genuine 100% beef.” The message was not meant to reassure, since right above it was a photo of two horses laughing. . .
The menu consisted of over 70 varieties of burgers, though by now you know exactly my preference; as I’d told them before, “I like my burgers like my women: nude.” Though they liked to argue that if I added cheese to the bare meat and bread I should call it a lingerie burger. . .
Across from me two young teens, not that different from the ones in the arcade, were biting into their burgers, close enough for me to see what they’d ordered. One had gone with the mushroom special, and I preferred not to watch her eat it. Besides, the other would be more amusing, as I’d overheard her ordered the Roquefort cheese, which I knew was marinated in champagne. For a girl who’d mostly likely never imbibed the firewater, this just might make for some interesting viewing. . .
But then they flirted with the waiter, right in front of their folks, and that was that for the fun. . .
As I stumbled out of the restaurant about an hour later, instinctively thinking about that restaurant down south called the Stuffed Pig, I pretended having to remember which way to go. Even though this wasn’t exactly familiar territory, one was never lost in Mexico City as long as you were close to the subway. Eventually I hopped onto Line 6, riding it south toward downtown, feeling giddy because it only took me a few seconds, once I’d started actually looking to find my shadows; only two of them, looking about as young as the chess player I’d replaced, and seemingly doing their best to stand out, with their dour determined countenances. For a moment I felt insulted, then remembered this was all for their benefit, their training, no matter how much they tried to make me think they were checking up on my own skills.
They were standing in the next car, faces plastered against the plexiglass, not even bothering to look away when I smiled at them; I wondered what they would do if I stuck out my tongue at them. Instead I pondered if they were being graded on not being spotted, because they’d failed that part. But now it was time to shake them. . .
Acting just short of hammy, I let out a big yawn as I stood up and moved through the equally tired bodies toward the door. I was sure I was making it look natural, not arousing the suspicions of the two chasers as the bright orange train landed at Chabacano station, where I exited. Walking parallel toward the front, I didn’t have to look back to know they were following.
The buzzer that signaled the closing of the doors went off, and at that very last moment I shoved my way back into the Metro, quickly turning to see if the shadows had managed to copy my move. One had indeed gotten his hand in to stop the doors from closing, and of course they obediently reopened, at which time the two guys jumped inside. . . so intent on accomplishing that task that they didn’t see their quarry jump back out until the train was moving and I waved at them as they passed by.
Walking briskly but not rapidly enough to arouse suspicion, I made my way through the labyrinth of corridors that led to the platform of the other line that stopped at Chabacano station. To keep myself calm I remembered that in this very place I’d come across the filming of “Total Recall” many years ago.
By the time I reached the next train I figured the guys had gotten off at the next stop and phoned in, so their buddies were no doubt alerted by now. And they would be expecting me to do the logical thing: get off the metro and onto the streets, maybe take a taxi or a bus. But if I worked quickly enough, I should be able to get to my destination before they caught on. . .
Oh right, the destination. Why, the airport, of course. . . not to fly out, which would be outside the rules, but maybe the chasers didn’t know that. Still, I was supposed to pretend it was all real, so laying down a false trail should earn some brownie points. . .
It actually didn’t take that long to arrive at Benito Juarez airport, though as usual I had to remind myself the actual subway station was Terminal Aereo, not Aeropuerto. My first stop was the map shop, where I was well known, enough to be on a first-name basis with most of the babes and have a credit account. Less than five minutes later I exited with a few maps, then quickly made a round of the airlines. Mexicana Airlines was the only one with available seats for the next day, so I made reservations, using the fake credit card I’d been issued. As I walked over to Aeromexico I wondered why the hell I had given my real name. . . then remembered I wanted them to find the reservations. So with that in my head I used a different name to grab a seat on a flight a week from now. . . though not so different that they couldn’t figure it out eventually.
Knowing I was probably overdoing it, I used the same technique at Delta for two weeks from now, then realized I was having fun and tootled over to the Lufthansa desk, where I spoke German to an older man and made reservations for the following month to Frankfurt, with a stopover in NY.
Not sure what else to do, I finally put on my headphones to drown out the sounds of the airplanes as I walked along Ignacio Zaragosa for awhile, until I felt safe enough to catch a bus downtown. There was a hotel I liked very much a few blocks from the main square, but I was well-known there, so I played it safe and avoided it. From there I really overdid it and took three taxis before going back into the subway, coming out in downtown anyway, but a few blocks away in another square, the Alameda. It was too late for my favorite English bookstore or the art museum at San Carlos to be open, so I walked around the flower-strewn plaza to see if I had any more followers, buying a pancake here or there from the young gals manning–er, womaning–the portable grills that looked to be cannibalized from ice cream strollers.
Then, as I looked up–and up and up–I figured it’d been a long time since I’d promised my old buddy Katarina to take her to the Mirador, the truly expensive restaurant a floor below the observation level on what was still one of the tallest buildings south of the United States, the Torre LatinoAmericana. Plus I’d never been up there at night, though word was it was one of the most romantic locations in all of this giant city.
Sigh. Katarina might be married, moved away, or any of hundred possibilities. But knowing you never won if you didn’t try, I got on the phone while staring at the building across from the tower, the one that had the sculpture of the dragon in-and-outing through the windows. . .
While I waited for someone to pick up I thought about the howls when they caught sight of my expense report tomorrow, and it filled me with much delight. . .