It was one of those winter nights in a small town on a secondary through-road when even the neighbours wouldn't show up for a drink in the tavern. Montse was ready to close shop early, when a car stopped and two very different men came in, one tall and skinny and with an air of conquest, the other short and fat and meek in his posture, easily influenced he seemed.
Dear lady, can we ask for your services at this late hour still? the tall one exclaimed. He wore a kept white beard under oddly black hair, his eyes somewhat unsharp. We would also like to stay the night, a shared room will do, but with separate beds of course.
Naturally, Montse smiled awkwardly, trying not to show her distress. Yet I must serve you what I have, as the cook has gone home early. She wouldn't want them to know the place was all her own doing since Jordi, her husband, had escaped from the earth plane. Would a home stew with bread and a bottle of red wine be to your gentlemen's liking?
Definitely so, yelled the skinny character, a bit like he was out of it, Montse thought. Short fatty, who sported a reddish hipster beard, kept respectfully silent. She showed them the largest of three rectangular tables in the bar and popped a bottle of their local's finest. White beard wanted to toast to her, but with an I'll be right back she fled into the kitchen where she lit the fire under a pot with sofrito, adding kidney sausage and bone in their gravies and pre-cooked knolls and onions and some kitchen vegetables as well, with a whisk of beer to help it all connect. Ten minutes later she reappeared with two steaming hot bowls on a tray, with tomatoed bread and garlic on the side. The new arrivals were shouting loudly, or as it turned out, it was fatty's turn to listen to skin's furious commentaries. It had something to do with a business partner who weren't paying their dues. But I tell you, my dear, we will get them, and when we have them, we are going to punish them for their bad behaviour, we're gonna hurt them real bad, aren't we, S?
Of course we are, S had agreed in a surprisingly condescending voice.
Montse decided not to want to know everything and began putting the food on the table.
This looks excellent, dear woman, yelled the tall thin self-kicker, and may I say the smell promises even better.
Montse smiled reverently this time. I will trust then everything is to the gentlemen's order, mr...?
M. And this is my companion S.
Montse is my name. I can see the wine's superb quality has not gone unnoticed. Shall I bring another bottle?
There was a quick exchange of glances and it was S, the quiet one who was showing a feminine face behind his facial growth, who gave the nod. Feel free, dear Montse, screamed M, lavish us as much as your professional eye deems needed.
So she popped them another bottle, a bit meaner this time, and was about to repair to the kitchen once again when M asked her bluntly: would you mind if we hurt you a bit tonight, milady? You will of course be compensated for any damages.
I beg your pardon? Montse didn't know how to respond other than in formal terms.
There is concern you have been ridiculing us, interrupted S unexpectedly. His voice was soft and high and he smiled as only women smile, the beard suddenly looking unreal. You have been trying to embezzle us with your poisonous local wine. She pointed at the glass in front of her, which remained untouched, I know what you are up to, woman! Her voice rose to a shrill cry, you want to make us feel unwelcome.
For this you will be punished, thundered M, isn't that so, S?
S stared at Montse with a cold fire burning in her unmoving eyes. There was no doubt any longer that she was a woman with a false beard. It is so, she served, now if you would be so smart as to submit yourself to M's intervention which shall always be in correspondence to the severity of your crimes.
But I only served you a bottle of my best wine, laughed Montse incredulously.
Your wine, indeed. You should have realised we only take national spirits.
M, who was happily biting his way into the second bottle, smiled wickedly. I must say this local produce certainly is of prime quality, therefore I suggest a mild spanking plus monthly delivery of a half dozen. S?
You know I prefer punishment over debt, hissed S.
Montse couldn't believe what was happening to her. This must be some kind of joke they were practicing for Carnival, right? Look, my friends, I will take the wine off the bill and I may have an old Rioja somewhere, but let's not overact and do things we might regret later on. Her studied manner, unfortunately, could not persuade the visitors.
Silent, barked tiny S with unredeeming eyes. Who gave you the right to speak?
And who are you to command me in my hotel? Montse felt an old anger taking hold of her, as she had been here before. But those were forgotten times, for sure?
S and M had started giggling and now were rolling over the table, M that is. When he finally came to himself, a time space S sat quietly back in, he stretched up and tried a defiant pose and then yelled in his over the top manner: we own you, you fool. We are the owners. It says so in the contract. Right, S?
S produced a document from her bag. It states this hotel belongs to us, to my family that is. M here is our current caretaker manager and I am just there to conclude everything is developing as accorded with the judge. Her index finger had flipped through a handful of pages. See? There's the warrant. We can throw you out if we want to.
Again, Montse could only be true to herself in the face of such overpowering madness. I never sold the place to anyone. It's been my family's for three generations, my daughter is up next, perhaps. So stop talking nonsense to me.
Nonsense? screamed M. Are you crazy, woman? You're making things much worse for yourself here.
That's okay, S interrupted. Look, Montse, I have here an age-old deed which proves my ownership. On the basis of this document, the judge has granted me the right to do with my property as I see fit. And that includes your position.
It surely doesn't include torture, I say. What ridiculous medieval parchment was this woman talking about, and what irresponsible judge would go for her story? Why don't we sleep it over? Montse suggested. I will call a lawyer tomorrow and then he can have a look at it.
That won't be necessary. It's already decided.
But I wasn't there, I mean, without anybody hearing me?
The judge deemed it an unadvisable waste of tax payers' money since the title unequivocally states my ancestor's dominance, as the phrasing went in those days.
Montse was getting very tired from the other's stone-cold insistence. I will talk to my lawyer always before making a decision, she announced with effort. We will see to this tomorrow, alright?
M, who had lost track sooner and was watching football on his telephone, reacted on cue. Tomorrow? Yes, why not tomorrow, S? He took a swig straight from the bottle of lesser wine. Let's all tug in and leave Montesa a chance to clean up her kitchen.
S let their expectations run dry in a prolonged silence, well beyond what seemed in step with the evening's rhythm. You want the easy way out, don't you, she finally said. You want a good price before anything else.
Who wouldn't, Montse spilled before she could think. Why did she have to say that?
Don't worry, my dear, S assured with an almost honest smile, we will compensate you.
All the compensation talk got Montse go weak in the brain. How much are we talking about here, she inquired. I would need to buy my daughter a new future.
Whose daughter, M yipped from behind his screen.
Your daughter could be in our employment if she is willing to bend to our rules, S smiled, a lot less honest this time. That would substantially reduce the total amount you will be needing from us.
I'm not selling her, if that's what you mean, Montse replied insulted.
She will sell herself, don't worry.
Montse's eyes sought her opponent's and was spewing pure disgust when she caught them. Whether it were the words or the way they were spoken, but that's when she lost it.