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Prologue: Something for the Mouth

Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story, and since I’m the one who’s telling it and you don’t know who I am, let me say that we’ll get to the who of it but not right now, because now there’s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I’ll have to stop, these are nighttime tales that vanish in sunlight, like vampire dust—

Chris stood quietly at the grill scraping burger residue with a steel-bristled brush, his back radiating to Kate that after a few hours of small talk, this was hers to wrap up. Dave sat with his feet up on a deck chair, beer in hand, calling directions to the children playing hide-and-seek. When a child came close—a Martin or a Spenser, it didn’t matter which—he’d reel the runner in by an arm or a leg. If his tickling was a bit more exuberant than necessary, the children were either unaware or did not mind. Kate sat quietly on the deck amid the noise. The sense of the missing member of the party was a fog low over the patio, changing the look and feel of everything.

My wife made a feast of a dinner.

I arrived home late and she was lying on the couch listening to her warped records.

I saw the table elaborately set. Candles had burned to stubs in the candlesticks.

My wife didn’t even look up when I opened the door. She stared into the space ahead of her.

I smelled the faint scent of something rich and gourmet. I realized the food must be cold.

The smell was what had soaked into the textiles of the room.

Pillows held the buttery garlic scent of lobster.

Freshly baked bread wafted from the curtains.

I.

Mateo got me drunk and told me about his mother’s parties. I stared at my reflection in the half-empty glass and lost myself in the white organza and tulle, the light strings and floating lanterns. Teo masked his familiar scent with cigarettes and cologne, but I could still smell the sweat lacquering his forearms, Argentina moist on his dark skin. He bought another round of tequila, and we drank to Cash and the mountain, my throat raw and roaring, the drowned pink worm dancing against my lips like a second tongue.

The small room filled up with eyes watching this príncipe and his boyish gringa. I leaned on the bar and laughed like my father, Mateo spinning words into worlds and building horizons with his long hands.

The Night Before

1.

My brother Henry gets out of prison tomorrow. He called to say that he’s supposed to be released somewhere around nine in the morning, but he couldn’t know the time for sure. Sometimes they let you out an hour or two early, sometimes an hour or two late. That’s what he said, at least. He got angry toward the end of the call, ranting about how they had no respect for anyone’s time, and he said he expected them to treat the cons that way, but what about the people picking them up? As if just knowing a con meant you didn’t deserve respect either?

I told him I didn’t know.