“Out for work again Agustin”? Antonio asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow at Agustin’s direction. Agustin groaned and removed his hand from the woman’s skirt pocket, dragging his feet over to Antonio’s stand. He stuffed his hands into his worn pockets and glared at the pompous woman as she bounced away, her curled, overly bouncy hair springing in the sun.
“Are you trying to get me caught Antonio? If so I might just steal from you next” Agustin grumbled. He plopped on the stool near Antonio’s shop, drawing designs on the dust.
“Just stating the facts. You should know by now that I was born to ruin you” Antonio joked good naturedly. Agustin didn’t say anything. He scanned his surroundings, looking for his next target like a cat stalking its prey.
“Do you know how hard it is to make money these days”? Agustin asked, his voice slurred from concentration. “Of course you don’t, you have a shop with people flocking at it everyday”.
“So? Are you planning on finding an actual job”? Antonio asked.
“No. I’m just saying. It isn’t easy to live like this” he gestured to the crowded street market. Children ran unsupervised under shop stalls and woman laughed and talked amicably between themselves. Men rode around town in their gold and glory, turning their noses up at the poor.
“Those children will make good pickpockets” Agustin murmured to himself, resting his chin on his palm. Antonio gave him a look that he couldn’t see, too preoccupied with the children.
“Don’t tell me you’re planning to make a thievery school. While you could make money with that, I don’t think many parents would like what you’re teaching their children” Antonio said. Agustin shrugged.
“To make money, I’d do anything” he said bluntly, eyes void of any emotion. Agustin had lost emotion a long time ago. Antonio was the only person he trusted his secret with...in exchange for food, of course.
“Does Dora approve of this”? Antonio asked. Agustin stiffened.
“You didn’t tell her, did you”? Agustin raised his eyebrow.
“Dora’s not my mother. I don’t have to tell her everything I do” he said.
“Yes but she’s your sister” Antonio said. Agustin huffed.
“Younger by three years. Dora’s still twenty-five. She has much more important things to worry about than how I am making a living for her” he said.
“Is she still with Daniel? I heard she made up with him” Daniel said. Agustin lazily eyed a deck of old, ripped cards. He picked it up and began shredding them, tossing the ripped paper onto the streets.
“Yeah. I can’t say anything ’cause she loves him, but Daniel’s nothing but a useless c-”
“Hang onto that thought” Antonio said. He turned to a man who had come to his stall. He was a young man, perhaps a few years younger that Agustin. He wore a striped vest and puffy purple pants that made Agustin want to hurl. He wore a brown hat over his head and a satchel begging to be freed hung from his belt. He had spiky brown hair and cold, calculating brown eyes. He didn’t meet Antonio’s eyes. Instead they wandered the stall, searching.
“Can I help you sir”? Antonio asked. Agustin had to bite his lip from imitating him. Years of lounging in Antonio’s stall had taught Agustin everything Antonio said daily.
“Yes” the man said. His accent was rough and thick, so thick with a new accent that Agustin barely understood him. Antonio raised his eyebrow.
“O-kay. What can I help you with”? He asked. The man didn’t answer. Instead, he studied Antonio up and down, biting his lip with concentration. Then, he moved to Agustin, eyebrow raised slightly.
Antonio and Agustin were an odd pair. You’d think they’d be enemies rather than friends. Antonio was a whopping 6′2 and as bulky as an ex-soldier could be. His shirts pulled against his toned chest, stitches audibly pulling whenever he moved. He had dark black eyes and curly but unruly brown hair which brushed his ears. Neatly trimmed bread brushing his cheeks. A necklace with a single bead hung on his neck, gleaming in the sun whenever he moved. In other words, Antonio was one of the most handsome men in Mendellín Spain.
Agustin on the other hand was...not so handsome. Sure, he was good looking, but not the same way as Antonio. While Antonio had the face of a heroic warrior, Agustin’s face was more roguish. Scarred and scratched. He had predatory grey eyes and very messy black hair which swept his shoulders and hung across his eyes. He wasn’t as muscular as Antonio was, yet was quite agile and lean. He could easily maneuver through a thick crowd. His clothes were ripped and raggedy, unlike Antonio’s prim and trim shirt and pants.
As different as they were, Antonio and Agustin were like socks and shoes. One can’t be without the other, and they were the same. Antonio had always looked out for Agustin and Dora, even though Agustin was a pickpocket. They were inseparable.
“What’s your problem”? Agustin asked harshly, narrowing his eyes in the man’s direction. Antonio glared at him, but the man simply smiled, looking him up and down as a judge observes a performer.
“Fiery temper, lean make-shift body. Hm...you’d do quite well” he mumbled. Agustin hopped down from his stool.
“Hey cabrón, I’m talking to you”! Agustin yelled again. The man didn’t even bristle at the crude name. He just kept mumbling to himself. Agustin grabbed him by the collar and yanked him closer, snapping his attention.
“Agustin”! Antonio cried, being in no mood to be arrested. Agustin ignored him, shaking the startled man.
“What the hell do you want”? Agustin snarled. The man’s eyes widened and he shook his head.
“I’m sorry mi amigo. I meant no harm! Honestly”! The man exclaimed. Agustin eyed him up and down, then released his collar. The man breathed a sigh of relief, fixing the rumpled piece of clothing.
“Do you need to buy anything, or shall I send you on your way”? Antonio asked, his muscles flexing as he clenched his fists. The man put his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
“Please. I mean it when I say I mean no harm. I do need your help, but not to buy anything” he said. Antonio looked to Agustin, who was still glaring at the young man, muttering ‘Kingsman’ under his breath.
“Go on” Antonio prodded. Agustin made a sound of disapproval and spit on the ground, but Antonio ignored him. The man eyed the wet dirt cautiously, then cleared his throat.
“Can we discuss this in private”? He whispered, eyes darting around. Antonio raised an eyebrow, but nodded, gesturing the man inside his house. Agustin followed, curious to see what illegal arms the man was dealing with.
Antonio’s house was furnished finely with silks and colors. His main attraction, as he liked to call it, was his living room. A beautiful multi-colored carpet hung above a small stove his wife used for cooking. Small trinkets and wooden toys lay scattered on the clay floor. Antonio pushed them aside gently with his feet and gestured to a seat with his hand. The man sat with dignity, while Agustin plopped himself down on the empty spot next to Antonio. The man’s eye twitched, but he didn’t say anything.
“Would you like something to drink”? Antonio asked. The man smiled wryly and nodded.
“Maria”! Antonio called. There was a soft patter of footsteps, then Maria, Antonio’s wife, appeared at the doorway. She was a rare woman born with dignity, dressing modestly and showing the proper respect men deserved.
“Yes”? She asked. Antonio gestured to the man with a jerk of his head.
“Could you get this gentleman something to drink mi amor”? He asked. That made Maria smile. She nodded and turned to the man.
“Wine or water”? She asked. The man mulled it over for a second.
“Water” he decided. Maria nodded. She turned to the two boys.
“Agustin? Antonio? Would you like anything”? Agustin jumped up.
“Wine”! He said quickly. The man regarded him, but Agustin didn’t notice. Maria giggled slightly and nodded.
“And you Antonio? Wine as well? Or water”? She asked. Antonio shook his head.
“Nothing right now. Just give them something and make sure the boys play nice with their sister” he said. Maria nodded and disappeared into the back room as quickly as she had appeared.
“You have children”? The man asked casually. Antonio nodded stiffly.
“Four. Three boys, one girl” he said. The man nodded.
“And yourself”? He asked, nodding at Agustin. Agustin bristled.
“None of your business” he said. The man nodded and leaned back in his seat, only pausing halfway when Maria returned with their drinks. He glanced up politely at her and slipped his drink.
“I hear smallpox is going around” he said. Another sip.
“Yes. One of my family members died just recently from smallpox. I pray that my wife and children aren’t burdened with the same fate” Antonio said. The man hummed.
“How old is your youngest”? He asked. Agustin stiffened, but Antonio didn’t seem to have any qualms about revealing his private life to a stranger.
“She’s four. Almost five” Antonio said. The man nodded, turning to Agustin. Agustin turned his head, trying not to look interesting. However, the man paid no heed to his indifference. He cleared his throat.
“I know quite a few people a couple of towns over who had family die of smallpox” he said, pity dripping in his voice. Agustin resisted the urge to gag. Honestly, couldn’t Antonio see that this guy...whoever he was...was only giving them pity? “Such good people going to waste thanks to this tragic act by God”! Antonio eyed him skeptically, but didn’t say anything.
The man, once finished with his dramatics, smiled suddenly.
“I believe I haven’t introduced myself” he said. He tool his hat off, placing it on his chest.
“No really”? Agustin asked. Antonio gave him another look and the man ignored him.
“My name is Hernán Cortés. I am a soldier and loyal friend to my leader, Diego Velázquez” he spat, clearly not meaning a word he said. Agustin winced.
“I feel bad for this Diego guy. Having to deal with him and his dramatics everyday” he whispered to Antonio. The latter promptly elbowed him in the ribs, earning sinister snickers.
“So”? Agustin asked.
“I’m leading an expedition to the New World and find myself quite short on a few soldiers” he looked at both men, his eyes narrowing into thin, calculating slits. “You seem like the perfect men I need”.
“No” Agustin said instantly. Hernán studied him. His posture was ridgid, his eyes set with determination and hardened. Hernán smiled eerily.
“You do not wish to leave someone you love” he said softly. If possible, Agustin stiffened even more, unable to feel the comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Yes” he said quietly. “I have a sister at home who needs me. I can’t just leave her while I go off for my own pleasure”. Hernán raised an eyebrow.
“I believe that is what wives are for” he paused “and mistresses”. Chuckling darkly to himself, Hernán turned to Antonio, who suddenly was very interested in Agustin’s empty wine glass.
“Will you be joining”? He asked. Antonio stood up. Much to Agustin’s pleasure, he practically towered over Hernán.
“You don’t even know our names, or what we do for a living” Antonio said. Hernán glanced boredly between him and Agustin.
“You own a shop, obviously Antonio Santiago” he said, inspecting his hat. Antonio’s eyes widened slightly and he took a step back. Hernán grinned, turning to Agustin. “And this here is Agustin Vasquez, the master pickpocketer”. Agustin flushed slightly under the praise, but shook it off.
“I don’t care” he said “I’m not going, and neither is Antonio”. Antonio nodded.
“I have a family to take care of Hernán. And even if I didn’t, I was injured in the last battle with Diego. I’m not in fighting shape” he said. Hernán shrugged, putting his hat back on his head.
“I understand” he said, his voice soft and velvety. ” For that is much more important that riches and fame. But if you ever change you’re mind, I’ll be in the King’s palace for the rest of the month”. He nodded to Antonio and cast a quick glance at Agustin before taking his leave. Both boys stared at the door.
“You weren’t really thinking about going, were you”? Agustin asked. Antonio sighed heavily and picked the glasses up.
“I don’t know Agustin. Exploring the New World can get me riches and fame, but it can also get me dead” he said. Agustin nodded.
“Yeah. Besides Hernán was a big fat cabrón. I’d never leave Dora for something like that. Someone like him" Agustin said, scorn written all over his face.
“Speaking of Dora, is she feeling any better”? Antonio asked. Agustin sighed tiredly.
“No. The vomiting hasn’t stopped and there are big rashes all over her body” he said. He shook his head, sitting on Antonio’s steps. “I don’t know what’s happening to her Antonio. I have to call the doctor to check up on her”.
“Be careful it isn’t smallpox” Antonio warned. “Like I told Hernán my sister-in-law died from smallpox”.
“I’ll keep that in mind” Agustin said. He rose from the steps, clasping his hands tightly with Antonio. “I’d better be going. If I’m not back by sundown Dora gets worried”. Antonio nodded, his eyes assessing Agustin’s tired form slowly. He resisted the urge to offer his pity.
“Make sure she gets well soon” he said. Agustin nodded.
“I hope. Dora’s the only family I have left”. Agustin’s face scrunched up in disgust. “Well, the only family who cares”. Antonio nodded understandingly.
“Well if you do change your mind...”
“Never. Not on my life” Agustin said, clearly ending their conversation. Antonio shrugged.
“Okay then. Hasta luego Agustin”.
“Hasta luego Antonio”.