A Gypsy's Clip
Amidst the bright light of 7:00 a.m., Michael Olvidas flashed a grin at the hotel’s doorman and made his entrance
onto La Rambla. He did not see the frown of distaste cross the old portero’s face.
It had rained only an hour ago, and though a spring sun now favored Barcelona, its streets still were wet. And the
air was so cool — too cool for the sandals, black cargo shorts, and T-shirt Michael wore. But with his spiked blond
hair, and the diamond stud in his ear, he thought himself quite the fashion plate. He turned up the collar of the black
leather blazer Marci bought him in Florence and set off on his quest.
Marci had sent him to fetch tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice from La Boqueria, Barcelona’s ancient market. He’d
pled for room service. After a night of lovemaking (“one fabulous fuck-a-thon” Marci called it), that would have been
romantic. And Marci had the dough. But she was “double-damned” if she’d pay her “left tit for hot water, a ten cent
tea bag, and some fuckin’ Valencia oranges!” Michael couldn’t argue.
From an old woman’s flower stand came the sweet smell of fresh-cut roses. The small parakeets and canaries she
sold filled the bright air with song. As Michael passed, he saw the woman mount a rickety chair to hang a cage. One
chair leg was shorter than the others and as she reached, she wobbled. Tongue between her teeth, she froze,
steadied herself, and hung the cage. Then she carefully climbed down for another.
Michael almost stopped to help. I could hand her the cages, he thought, or hold the chair, or hang them myself.
That would be the gentlemanly thing, what Abby — uh, uh, can’t keep Marci waiting. Giving the woman his
brightest grin, he quickened his pace.
He and Marci had strolled La Rambla only last night. Now, in the sunshine, he saw he hadn’t seen a thing. He’d been
too entranced by the lights and people of the outdoor cafes; plus the promise of paella, sangria, and four-star sex in
their five-star hotel; plus the woman begging for money.
“Are y’all American?” she had asked. “Oh Gawd, please say y’all’re Americans!”
Michael could tell she was from someplace south of the Mason-Dixon: Mississippi maybe, or Alabama.
“We are,” he had answered, arrested by her thin but top-heavy figure and her flowing brown hair. Marci hooked her
arm in his to pull him away.
“Well I’m American too and I need y’all’s help. Someone stole my bag. And it had everthang in it. Passport, wallet,
room key — everthang. I ain’t eaten since yesterday and it’s Memorial Day weekend and the embassy’s closed. Can
you help? Please? Just some Euros. Maybe ten? So’s I can get something to eat? Everthang’s so expensive here.”
Michael couldn’t think of anything worse than being stranded in a foreign city with nothing. As he dug into his
pocket, Marci cut in: “Who you think you’re talking to? Couple of hicks? We get that crap ten times a day back in
New York! Only lots more original. Come on, Mickey.”
By that time he’d had out his wad: some Euros and his ATM card clasped by the silver money clip from his
grandfather. Stepping from the shadows, the woman eyed the money hungrily. She was much older than Michael
first thought. Deep furrows creased the sides of her mouth and nose and yellow-gray streaks infested the hair he’d
found so luxurious. And she smelled ripe, as if she hadn’t bathed in days, as if she were decaying.
The woman’s hand darted for Michael’s money, revealing an arm pocked with festering needle marks. Marci drew back
“Fuckin’ junkie!” she spat. “Get the hell away from us, ya fuckin’ junkie!”
“Please!” the woman cried. “I’m so hungry! Please, Mister?”
Michael looked down at his silver-clipped wad. The rod of Asclepius, the snake entwined staff that was the Greek
symbol for the healing arts, glinted. He separated bills from the clip.
“Oh no!” Marci had cried. “We didn’t work like dogs to have you throw it away on this loser. Come on.” She pulled
him towards their paella.
Two hours later, they saw the woman again, talking to another couple: same spiel — bag stolen and nowhere to go —
but different accent and embassy. The woman’s new targets wore identical T-shirts emblazoned with Britain’s Union
Jack. Now the woman affected the rounded tones of a Londoner and it was the British Embassy that was closed for
“See?” Marci said. “What’d I tell you? Just another junkie hustler! No different from New York. What’s Europe got
we haven’t got? Huh? I knew that accent was phony the minute she opened her mouth. And if I could tell, why
couldn’t you, Mr. Actor?”
The memory of it made his face burn. Again he quickened his pace.
He arrived at La Boqueria only to find it closed. As he stood before the tall, stained-glass entrance wondering what
to do, a policeman approached.
“A las ocho, Señor. A las ocho.”
Confusion clouded Michael’s face. He remembered only enough high school Spanish to ask for the bathroom.
“A las ocho, Señor!” the officer insisted. “El mercado es cerrado hasta entonces. Vuelva a las ocho.” He waved his
hands to shoo Michael away, but Marci wanted tea and orange juice. Michael stood his ground, looking even more
“He means you should go away now,” spoke a hoarse voice behind him.
Michael turned to see an old man in a tan blazer and white shirt open at the throat. His yellow silk ascot and ivory-
handled walking stick bespoke a man of refinement. But his hands told a different story. Gnarled and nicotine-
stained, they ended in long, pointed nails rimmed with dirt. Michael appraised the man again. Short and stocky with
rounded shoulders and rheumy, brown eyes, he reminded Michael of a small bear.
“The market opens at eight and the policeman says for you to come back then,” the old man explained.
Michael turned to the officer and said “Gracias,” which he pronounced, “grassy ass.” The old man cringed as the
policeman’s face turned sullen. Clearly, he wanted to arrest Michael for his pronunciation. Instead, he grunted and
went his way.
“Thank you,” Michael said.
“My pleasure,” the old man replied. “Perhaps you would care to join me for a coffee until the market opens? Then I
can show you where to get the best deals.”
The old man’s gaze made Michael uncomfortable.
“Can’t,” he replied quickly. “Gotta’ get back. Woman’s waiting.”
“Are you sure? There’s so much I can show you. I know the best butchers. How would you like one of our fine
Spanish hams? I can get you one for what we Barcelonans pay. If they think you’re a tourist, someone in there
might charge you double, maybe triple...”
“That’s nice of you. But, I have to...”
“And the fruit! Anything you could hope for — figs, mangoes, pineapples — anything! Or maybe some flowers for
your lady? They have all sorts of beautiful flowers in there. Look, you can see them setting them out.”
“No. Like I said, my woman... ”
“Well, if your woman waits. But let me offer some advice. To give thanks in Spanish, don’t say ‘grassy ass.’ Try
saying it as your word ‘gracious’ with a slight lisp on the c. Then say it fast. Say it with style, so that it comes out
The man’s manner had seemed gentle, but when he said “Grathias,” his voice hardened and he struck a pose
reminiscent of a matador preparing to strike. The violence of it jarred Michael.
“You’ll find people friendlier if you do,” the old man concluded softly.
“Grathias. I’ll remember that.”
“Are you sure you don’t need my help?” the old man persisted.
“No. My people are from here. I know what I’m doing.”
“Ah. Then I bid you buenos días.” The man strolled off, the silver tip of his cane tapping.
Michael continued down La Rambla. He wasn’t going back to Marci, not without tea and juice, but he wanted to be
away from the old man and his sad-eyed solicitude. And coffee sounded good; he was dying for coffee. Screw it, he
thought, Marci can just wait. He took a table on the patio of the Café de L’Opera and, pointing to pictures on the
menu, ordered coffee and rolls.
As he waited, he gazed across La Rambla to study the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s 160 year-old opera house.
With its sand-colored façade, its columns and balconies, and its arched, two story windows, it seemed to Michael a
palace. Between the windows, two long, red banners ran down the wall of the building. Like sails, they billowed in the
breeze. As they filled, Michael gasped.
“A problem, Señor?” asked the waiter, setting down rolls and coffee.
“The banners,” said Michael, pointing, “what are they for?”
“For the festival to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the birth of Don Vicente Diego. He was a very great writer,
a Barcelonan. Have you heard of him?”
“Yes,” Michael whispered, unable to take his eyes off the banners. The face of his grandfather — Abby’s face —
* * *
Had Michael known of the festival honoring his grandfather, he never would have come to Barcelona, no matter how
badly Marci wanted a tan. He’d never forgiven the old man.
They’d been close once, so close Michael called him Abby, short for abuelo, the Spanish word for grandfather. The
day after his seventh birthday — the day Michael lost both his parents to a boating accident on the Hudson — Abby
took him to live high in the sky on east 72nd.
The apartment wasn’t what one might expect for a man whose plays and films earned millions: just two bedrooms, a
kitchen, and a living room with Abby’s desk, an old TV, and lots of books. Widowed, Abby was a man of Spartan
tastes who refused to have more than he needed. But the view was spectacular, especially at night.
“Look, Michael, at all the lights,” Abby would say, lifting him up to see out the window. “See how they sparkle like a
Abby immediately established their routine. Mornings, sleepy-eyed, he would wake Michael with sweet, milky coffee
and a buttered roll. “Miguelito, it is time to greet the new day,” he would urge softly. He could still feel Abby’s warm
hand as they walked to school, still see his grandfather — so dignified in his three-piece suit and yellow bow tie —
wave from outside the school gate. “Learn well, Miguel!” he would call.
Afternoons, they would work together: Abby writing at his desk while Michael sat across from him at a TV table doing
his homework. Sometimes, the scratch of the old man’s pen would pull him away from his math or science and he
would watch as words poured from Abby onto the page. He loved the grace with which that strong, blunt-fingered
hand danced. It was as if God or a ghost whispered in Abby’s ear and he simply copied out what he heard.
By the time Michael started high school, he could help Abby with his work. Evenings, the old man sat back and
listened as Michael read aloud the pages completed that day. Michael loved Abby’s plays and stories. They were so
stirring. They spoke of freedom and self-determination and what the world might be without tyranny and want.
Going with Abby to the Broadway opening nights, the film premieres, and the awards banquets was exciting. The
courtly Spanish gentleman taught him how to dress and make his manners: to say “please,” “thank you,” and “may I
have,” to open the door for his elders, and to stand for the beautiful women who came to their table. Everyone
treated Abby with such reverence. Michael longed to be treated that way.
Michael tried emulating his grandfather. Pad and pen in hand, he’d wait for the words to pour forth. But they never
did. Abby said it was because he didn’t have that kind of mind. “You’re not an idle dreamer like your grandfather,
and thank God for that! You are a helpful, practical boy. And with your genius for math and science, I know you will
do great work. Someday you will be a doctor healing the sick, or a scientist unlocking the secrets of the universe. In
that, I have faith.”
The older Michael grew, the less he shared that faith. True, it was at the blackboard with equations and at the
laboratory dissecting table that his own hand moved effortlessly, as if guided by an unseen force. And he liked the
feeling volunteering at the hospital gave him, the satisfaction that came from helping someone else. But all that
counted for less than nothing with his classmates who shunned him as a “grind” and a “know-it-all-geek.”
And the future Abby painted — college, then medical school, then years of post-graduate training — loomed before
him like some steep and craggy mountain, not impossible to climb, but tremendously hard and lonely. He didn’t want
to be stuck in some lab. He wanted to be out amidst the city’s lights and the glamour of his grandfather’s set. What
he really wanted was an actor’s fame.
Senior year, he gave up the science club, and Hospital Volunteers, to join the school’s theater society. Drama coach
George Lipson gave him the lead in Cabaret. “Excellent Michael, excellent!” the slim, beautifully dressed teacher
praised during private rehearsals. “With your looks and talent, you’ll go all the way. We’ll make your grandfather
proud. He’ll come to the performance, yes? You’ll introduce me, yes? So we can plan your future.”
Abby did not come. But when the mail arrived the day after the show, Abby was elated.
“It is here, Michael! It came!” he cried. “Columbia has accepted you as a pre-med student. All your dreams are
“I’m not going,” said Michael.
“I’m not going to college. I’m going to be an actor.”
“An actor? Oh no. No, no — that is not where your talent lies.”
“George says I have talent. He says there’s always room for someone bright and fresh like me in the theater.”
“Our drama teacher. He says with my connections, it’ll be easy. He was in Cats, and if anyone should know, it’s him.”
“He is wrong. The theater is never easy, especially for one with no talent.”
“How would you know?” cried Michael, stung. “You didn’t even come.”
“I know from your readings. Michael, do not do this. Do not throw away your gifts!”
“Some gift! I get to spend my life in a laboratory, hanging out with bullfrogs and rats? How come I don’t get to have
friends like yours?”
“God chose your talents. I didn’t.”
“Yeah? Well George says I have talent for the stage. He says lots of people with lots less have made it. And with
your help, I’d make it in no time. It’d be easy.”
“Is that what you want? Something that’s easy?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I forbid you!” snapped Abby. “I forbid you from the theater!”
“You can’t forbid me. It’s a free country. I can do what I want.”
“Yes? And who will support you? What will you do for money?”
“I’m eighteen. You have to give me the money my parents left.”
“But that is for college!”
“It’s mine and I want it. Give it to me.”
“Listen, I know my rights. If you don’t give it to me, I can call the cops, tell them you’re stealing from me!”
Throughout the theater world, Abby’s temper was legendary. Now, for the first time ever, he lost that temper with
Michael. Small but strong as a bear, he swept Michael almost off his feet and out the front door. “Get out and don’t
come back!” he roared. “Not until you’re man enough to accept who you are!”
Michael walked the streets for hours, furious at the old man, then spent the night at a friend’s. When he returned to
his grandfather’s the next morning, the doorman would not let him in. Instead, he gave Michael his suitcase and an
envelope containing a bank book and a note:
As you are eighteen, I think it best you make your own way. Here are your clothes and the
ten thousand dollars left you by your parents, plus all the interest earned. Should you change
your mind, you may call me.
He couldn’t believe Abby’s betrayal. He refuses me? And then throws me out? Fuck him! I’ll do it myself.
Through “Roommate Finders” he found a situation on the west side, sharing a grimy two-room walk-up with four
other actors. The last man in, he got the futon in the front hall for his $500.00 a month. He paid for headshots and
resumes and began auditioning. When he heard the sighs, he started acting lessons.
It didn’t take a math whiz to figure, at New York prices, he’d soon be broke. He went door-to-door looking for work.
With no degree or experience, the best job he could find was as a busboy and waiter-in-training
His acting went nowhere. Occasionally, he’d get a small role in an amateur show, but that was the best he could do.
He couldn’t land a paying job, or even find an agent. At times, an equation or two would dance through his head and
he’d wonder about returning to school. But the mountain of years was too daunting. And he refused to give Abby
the satisfaction. He learned bartending, took more classes, and kept auditioning. Still, he couldn’t find a paying part.
It was in the third year of this apprenticeship that Abby died. Michael didn’t go to the funeral; he saw it on
A lawyer called. Abby’s will left everything to the Vicente Diego Charitable Trust for Scientific Research. There was
one provision for Michael. If he went to college and studied mathematics, science, or medicine, the Trust would pay
his tuition and a generous stipend. The same was true for graduate work. Later, if Michael needed a research grant,
the trustees would look favorably upon his application. However, the Trust would not support Michael’s acting.
Michael hung up on the lawyer.
Several weeks later, Marci prowled with a feline grace into the struggling café he ran. Her red hair flamed and her
green eyes sparkled as they bantered across the bar. The first time she laughed her wild, raucous laugh, all he could
think of was sex. She hauled him back to her loft for a night he’d never forget.
Marci was a party girl whose dad did real estate. She wanted to convert one of his downtown warehouses into a
dance club. She took Michael to see the place and liked his ideas and his knowledge of the business so much, she
hired him to help build and run it. Then she moved him into her loft.
They built the club cheap. Most of the money Marci’s dad fronted went into the long bar, the huge dance floor, and
the state-of-the-art sound system. They bought Sears patio furniture and some lion cages from a bankrupt circus,
painted pictures of jungle animals on the walls, and called the place “New York Zoo.”
The law said they had to serve food, but Marci’s dad didn’t want to spend the money. “When it comes to the bar
business,” he said in a voice still rough from Hell’s Kitchen, “food’s a loss-leading pain in the ass.”
It was Michael’s idea to rent space to push cart vendors. They wheeled in their carts to perfume the club’s air with
the aromas of food from the streets: hot dogs with sauerkraut, onions and mustard; garlic-laced sausages, gyros,
and kabobs; lo-mein, fried rice, and General Tso’s chicken; plus melons and ices and Cracker Jack for dessert. And
hadn’t all the preppies and yuppies and Wall Street wanna-bes just loved eating all that junk with their Stoli and
Marci changed his name to Mickey and dressed him in silk jackets and grungy jeans so he’d have just the right
cachet. They schmoozed and networked and were so busy building their party list that Michael barely noticed the
silliness of the crowd. The club made a ton and he was a star and it had been so very easy. But sometimes at dawn,
as the champagne whirled him to sleep, an equation or two would unfurl in his head and he’d wonder whose voice he
heard lamenting: “Such a waste.”
Marci’s dad was a shrewd operator who said clubs were fragile things. When he saw the first three per cent drop in
gross receipts, he sold the place for a mint and sent Marci and Michael on this junket to Europe while he built a new
That’s what I have to look forward to back in New York, thought Michael, running another playground for the rich.
That, and the acting thing.
* * *
The red banners snapped in a stiffening breeze. His coffee half-finished, his rolls uneaten, Michael stood, wanting to
be away. He was so cold. By the opera house clock, it was only seven-thirty, still a half hour to kill. He would warm
himself with a walk down to the Christopher Columbus monument overlooking the harbor.
As he paid the bill, he noticed his cash was light. He hated not having plenty. He wasn’t sure how much he had, but
he knew it wasn’t enough.
He remembered passing an ATM and walked back up La Rambla to the gaily-tiled sidewalk mosaic by surrealist Joan
Miró. Something about one of the buildings caught his eye. He looked up to see a large, green Chinese dragon curled
around a pole jutting from the building. Hanging below it was the sculpture of a half-furled umbrella, what Abby used
to call a bumbershoot.
He knew this place! It was where Abby had fought his brother Francisco over the fascists’ right to rule. Francisco
was a colonel in Franco’s army who insisted that Abby enlist. Abby had beaten and humiliated Francisco so badly that
he’d had to flee, ultimately coming to America as a political refugee. The brothers never spoke again.
“Runs in the family,” Michael growled to himself, separating his card from the clip. He stared at the rod of Asclepius
and remembered the pride in Abby’s voice when he’d said: “So you’ll always remember your gifts.”
Eyes blurring, throat constricting, Michael fed the machine his card and stabbed at buttons as images of Abby rushed
through his head: sleepy-eyed, offering morning coffee; so dignified on their walks to school; “Learn well, Miguelito…
I have faith.” Oh Jesus, I miss that old man.
A hand clutched his shoulder and he turned. A cocoa-skinned boy stood before him, his dark hair unruly, his eyes full
of pain. He had a harelip and his bottom teeth jutted like the rotted posts of a picket fence.
“Dinero?” the boy mumbled. “Yo necessito dinero.”
Michael’s heart went out to the boy. Then he remembered how humiliated he’d been by what Marci said about the
junkie. He knocked the hand away and turned back to the ATM. But the boy would not be denied. Again he grasped
Michael’s shoulder. “Por favor, dinero!” he hooted, his breath rank with old garlic.
It was the stink that made Michael snap. Wheeling, he shoved with all his might and felt triumph as the boy stumbled
away. But when the boy collapsed in the gutter, his elation turned to shame. He rushed over and reached out his
hand. The boy wouldn’t have it. Wiping scraped palms on mud-splattered trousers, he spat at Michael and stalked
Michael ducked his head under the stares of the crowd that had gathered. Behind him, the ATM beeped. He swiped
up his card and money, shoved them into the clip, which he dropped into his jacket pocket, and hurried for the
He was just outside the large, sun-filled square known as the Plaça Reial when the hare-lipped boy caught up with
him again. Michael never saw him coming. One moment he was walking along, still berating himself — the next, he
was jostled from behind. Stumbling, he felt a weight in his jacket pocket. He looked in time to see a hand emerge
with his money clip. His eyes traveled up the arm to meet the boy’s frightened stare.
Then they were off. Quick as a rabbit, the boy ran into the plaza. Between giant palms and around a fountain he
fled, Michael’s silver clip flashing in the sun. Michael was fast, but the boy was faster. He dashed through an arcade,
then a maze of café tables, veered left, dodged right, leapt a chair, and was off again across the square.
Michael raced to catch up. As he charged through the maze, he tripped and spilled into the square. He looked up
just in time to see the boy’s dirty shirttail disappear down an alley.
Michael gave chase. If this had been New York, he’d have let it go. His street savvy would have told him it was too
dangerous, that he’d get himself killed. But this was Barcelona, the city of his grandfather, and somehow, he felt
Halfway down the alley, he came upon a teenaged girl standing against a building. Her skin was also cocoa, much like
the boy’s. But she was beautiful. Tall, willowy, with dark, shimmering hair and flashing black eyes, she looked so
clean in her faded jeans and pleated shirt, freshly starched and achingly white. She held a deck of tarot cards.
One look at the girl and Michael knew she was a gypsy. Then he knew the boy was a gypsy and that somehow, the
two were connected. He didn’t know how he knew. He just knew.
“Fortuna, Señor? You like I tell your fortune?” the girl asked, coming off the wall to stand in his way. Her English was
halting and heavily accented, but Michael wasn’t buying it.
“All right,” he panted. “Where is he?”
“The boy who stole my money. Where is he?”
“Don’t qué me! You know what I’m talking about. Look — tell the boy I’m sorry. Tell him to keep the money. I just
want the clip back. It’s special to me. It was from my grandfather. Mi Abuelo. You understand?”
“Qué?” she asked again, a smirk gathering at the corners of her mouth.
“How about policía? You comprendo policía? Because that’s who I’m gonna get. Donde está la policía?”
“Por qué tu quieres la policía?”
“Por qué tu eres una gitana y su hermano es un gitano y ustedes son... son... how do you say thieves? Because that’
s what you and your brother or cousin — whatever the hell he is — are. Gypsies and thieves! Don’t deny it. I know.”
“Vaya á la plaça. La policía están allá.” The girl pointed to the Plaça Reial and Michael, amazed by his burst of
Spanish, started heading back to the square. Then he realized that was what the girl wanted. He turned to see her
hurrying down the alley. He ran and caught her arm.
“Oh no! You’re coming with me to the police.” He pulled her towards the square.
“Let go of me!” she yelled. “What do you want? You crazy American!”
“See? You do speak English.”
“You’re hurting me. Let go, or I’ll scream. Then see how fast the police come.”
Michael released her and followed her down the alley away from the square.
“Look, I don’t care about the money. I just want the clip. It’s only a small piece of silver. But it was a gift from my
grandfather, Don Vicente Diego. It’s the only thing I have from him.”
They reached a small, four-way intersection surrounded by balconied apartment buildings. Although deserted, the
windows were open and Michael had the feeling he was being watched.
“Did you hear that?” he shouted to the balconies. “I don’t care about the damn money! Just give me the clip. It was
from my grandfather, Don Vicente Diego.”
Even though he and the girl were alone, Michael could have sworn a hush fell over the street. Then, on the second
story balcony of one of the buildings, double-doors crashed open. It was the hare-lipped boy, running for his life.
Chased by two dark-haired men, he skidded into the railing, almost lost his balance, recovered, and ran for a set of
iron stairs leading to the street. He was not fast enough. The men seized him and held his arms behind his back.
Michael thought they would throw him over the rail.
The doors banged again and the old man from the market appeared. Hooking his cane on the railing, he looked down
at Michael and called, “You see? You need my help after all.”
He gestured and his two men hustled the boy down to the street. As he followed, the silver tip of his cane rang on
the stairs. Now people lined the balconies and looked down from open windows.
“You say you are the grandson of Don Vicente Diego. How can I know you tell the truth?” asked the old man.
“Why would anyone lie about something like that?”
“To get special treatment, of course. As you are trying to do now. Don Vicente is a hero to Spain. For years, he
spoke against Fascism and the Franco regime. And do you know he was one of the only men to write about what the
Nazis did to us in the camps? So, he is special to us, as he is to many throughout the world. How can I know that
you are his grandson?”
“I don’t know.”
The gypsy circled him, eyeing him as if he were horseflesh.
“What you say must be true. The resemblance is very strong. But why do you wear short pants and your hair in
spikes? They look so foolish. So, grandson of Don Vicente, what do you do? What do you stand for?”
“I run a nightclub in New York.”
“No! A nightclub? Surely you can find something more useful to do with yourself. Do you not write?”
“But why a nightclub?”
“Because I’m good at it.”
“I am good at making love, but I don’t earn my bread as a gigolo.”
Laughter and “Ole!”s rained down from the crowd.
“What do you want here?” The old man’s face was hard, his eyes dry and cold.
“What he stole from me.”
“I thought the money did not matter to you.”
“It doesn’t. Only the clip. And the bank card. I need that and it won’t do him any good without the code.”
Holding out his hand, the gypsy leader advanced on the boy gripped by the two men. Defiant, the teen thrust out
his chest and shook his head. The old man whipped his hand across the boy’s face. The slap echoed and the gypsy’
s pointed nails dug furrows into his cheek. He moaned as his legs buckled under him. The men propped him up.
One grasped him by the hair and made him look at the gypsy elder who again held out his hand. The boy hooted
something incomprehensible. The old man gestured and the men let the boy go. Wiping blood from his face, he went
to the corner of a building, and from a crack in its façade, extracted the clip.
The elder pointed to Michael. The boy trudged over and gave him his clip. Then he went and stood between the two
men. The old man snapped his fingers. The boy reached into his pocket and handed him Michael’s money and bank
“Michael Olvidas,” the gypsy read off the card. “Why is your name not Diego?”
“Olvidas was my father’s name. Don Vicente was my mother’s father.”
“Ah. Well,” he said, handing back the card, “you have what you came for. I trust there will be no mention of this to
“No. No mention.”
“Good. Then you may go.”
Michael turned for the Plaça Reial.
“One minute!” the gypsy leader called. “How much money did you have when this thief robbed you?”
The two men held the boy once more and there was a desperate look in his eyes. Alarm ran through Michael. Had
the boy given up all the money or had he held some back? If the amount Michael stated did not tally with what the
elder held, surely the boy would receive a beating. But Michael didn’t know how much had been in his pocket. He was
sure of the fifty he’d gotten from the machine. But he didn’t know how much he’d started with. It could have been
twenty. It could have been sixty.
“Well? I’m waiting. How much did you have?”
“Not sure,” Michael stammered. “Around a hundred, maybe.”
“A hundred? There’s only seventy here.”
The old man growled in Spanish and the two men went to work on the boy. One held him while the other threw
punches. The first knocked the wind out of him, doubling him over. The second crunched the cartilage of his nose.
The third shattered rotted teeth. The boy gasped, then wheezed. A terrified look came over him as he struggled for
air. His face purpled and he fell to his knees, clawing at his neck.
“He’s choking!” Michael yelled. “Can’t you see he’s choking?” He ran at the boy’s tormentors. “Get away from him!
Give him air!” He knelt to see what could be done.
“Not so fast!” the old man commanded. His men seized Michael. “You want to help this boy? What can you trade?”
“Are you nuts? He’s choking to death!”
“You want to save him. What can you trade?”
“You know I don’t have anything. You took it all.”
“Not so. I see that pretty diamond in your ear.”
“Fine! It’s yours. Now let me help him.”
“You fucking son-of-a-bitch. Look at him!”
“I don’t have anything else!”
“Think again. What about your precious clip?”
“But it isn’t worth anything. It’s only worth something to me.”
“As you said, the boy is dying.”
“All right!” Michael yelled. “Let me help him and you can have the diamond and the clip.”
The old gypsy nodded. The men freed Michael.
“Help me!” he said to the two toughs. “Hold him up.”
The old man translated and the men dragged the youth to a standing position. Michael hugged him from behind,
stuck a fist into his solar plexus and jerked. Nothing happened. Michael jerked again, this time with all his might.
With an explosive retch, the boy expelled the bloody tooth lodged in his windpipe. Then he and Michael collapsed.
A collective sigh rose from those gathered on the balcony and at the windows. The two thugs hauled Michael to his
feet and led him to the old man who held out his hand.
“I fulfilled my part of the bargain. You got to save this boy’s life. Now give me the diamond and the silver.”
Michael undid the stud from his ear and handed it over. It wasn’t difficult; it had only been a few weeks since Marci
bought it for him in Amsterdam.
The money clip was harder. He looked at it. The rod of Asclepius winked back at him. The round-shouldered old
man in the tan jacket and yellow ascot held out his hand. His eyes were soft and rheumy again and, for the briefest
moment, Michael thought… He dropped the clip into the hand and watched the claw-like fingers close over it.
“Now,” said the gypsy, “we had better go before the police really do come.”
“What about the boy?”
“What about him? Ah, I see. You think we will hurt him more. Don’t worry. He has learned his lesson.”
“You mean he’s learned never to hold out on you.”
“No, he’s learned never again to get caught. Good day to you, Miguel, grandson of Don Vicente Diego.”
The gypsy clapped his hands and within seconds Michael was standing alone with nothing but his ATM card. Dazed,
he walked slowly back through the Plaça Reial, not quite believing what had happened. But he noticed that, for the
first time in ages, he felt good about something he’d done.
He returned to La Rambla, passing the opera house. There was no breeze now. The banners bearing his
grandfather were perfectly still. Again the portraits reminded him of all the times Abby had praised and encouraged
him and dreamed aloud about his future.
The sun was higher. It warmed Michael as he retraced his steps to the hotel. He did not stop for cash, or at La
Boqueria. But he did stop to return the doorman’s greeting. Although the old portero was at a loss to explain it, he
now found Michael charming, even with the spiked hair. And later that afternoon, after a brunch ordered from room
service, as a silent Marci seethed beside him on the beach, Michael gazed upon the Mediterranean’s cool, blue waters
and began considering that future.
William de Rham
Born and raised in New York City, William de Rham is a graduate of Georgetown University and the University of
California, Hastings College of the Law. A former dolphin trainer, actor, and trial lawyer, several years ago he left
the practice of law to write fiction. He is the author of "Smuggler’s Bluff", a novel in search of an agent. His work
has appeared or is forthcoming in RiverSedge, Broken Bridge Review, Neonbeam, Ascent Aspirations, Boston Literary
Magazine, the editred anthology late-night river lights, and other publications. At work on more stories and another
novel, he lives in Maine. http://www.editred.com/Spencer15
Under the coiled Chinese dragon and its great bumbershoot, I fought my brother, the
colonel. I loved freedom. He worshipped Franco. I beat him bloody. He exiled me to
America. I never saw or spoke with him again. Franco is gone. Most of the communists are
too. Still, I miss my brother. ~ Vicente Diego