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"Is there a key you have to the Ladies' Room?"
The attendant's eyes moved past her, to the four men outside, and back again. "No, it's broken, you can't use it. Go down the road someplace."
"Maybe it's all right now," the girl said. "Have you looked at it? Sometimes they get all right by themselves."
The attendant was shaking his head now. "I'm telling you it's broken. Take my word for it and go someplace else, all right?"
"What about the other one?" the girl said. "The Men's Room."
"It's broken too. Both of 'em are broken."
"See, we go in separately," the girl went on. "The men, they come out, then I go in. So you don't have to call the cops, say we're doing it in there."
"I can call the cops right now." The attendant's voice was louder, irritated. "I'm telling you both toilets are broken. You got to go someplace else."
"Where do you go?" the girl said. She waited a moment, not looking around but knowing the four men were close to the doorway now, and could hear her.
The attendant said, "I'm warning you--"
And the girl said, "Maybe you never go, uh? That's why you're full of shit."
The migrants grinned, some of them laughed out loud and there were words in Spanish, though the girl continued to stare at the attendant calmly, almost without expression.
The attendant turned to a counter and came around with a wrench in his hand, his jaw set tightly. Majestyk reached over to put a hand on the man's arm.
He said, "When did the toilet break? Since I used it?"
"Listen, I got to do what I'm told." He pulled his arm away from Majestyk and lowered his voice then, though the tension was stillthere. "Like anybody else. The boss says don't let no migrants in the toilets. He says I don't care they dancing around like they can taste it, don't let them in the toilets. They go in there, mess up the place, piss all over, take a bath in the sink, use all the towels, steal the toilet paper, man, it's like a bunch of pigs was in there. Place is filthy, I got to clean up after."
"Let them use it," Majestyk said.
"I tell you what my boss said. Man, I can't do nothing about it."
"What're they supposed to do?"
"Go out in the bushes, I don't know. Mister, you have any idea how many migrants stop here?"
"I know what they can do," Majestyk said. He turned from the attendant to the nice-looking Chicano girl, noticing now that she was wearing small pearl earrings.
"He says for all of you to come inside."
"I want them out of here!"
"He says he's sorry the toilets are broken."
"They're always broken," the girl said. "Every place they keep the broken toilets locked up so nobody steal them."
Majestyk was looking at her again. "You come here to work?"
"For the melons or whatever time it is. Last month we were over at Yuma."
"You know melons, uh?"
"Melons, onions, lettuce, anything you got."
"You want to work today?"
The girl seemed to think about it and then shrugged and said, "Yeah, well, since we forgot our golf clubs we might as well, uh?"
"After you go to the bathroom." Majestyk's gaze, with the soft hint of a smile, held on her for another moment.
"First things first," the girl said.
"Listen, I don't say they can't use them," the attendant said now. "You think I own this place? I work here."
"He says he works here," Majestyk said.
The girl nodded. "We believe it."
"And he says since the toilets are broken you can use something else." Majestyk's gaze moved away, past the attendant and the shelves of lube oil and the cash register and the coffee and candy machines, taking in the office.
"What're you doing?" The attendant was frowning, staring at him. "Listen, they can't use something else. They got to get out of here."
Majestyk's gaze stopped, held for a moment before coming back to the attendant. "He says use the wastebasket if you want," and motioned to the migrants with his hands. "Come on. All of you, come on in."
As two of the migrants came in hesitantly behind the girl, grinning, enjoying it, and the other two moved in closer behind her, the attendant said, "Jesus Christ, you're crazy! I'm going to call the police, that's what I'm going to do."
"Try and hold on to yourself," Majestyk said to him quietly. "You don't own this place. You don't have to pay for broken windows or anything. What do you care?"
The phone was on the desk in front of him, but the Enco gas station man with Gil over his shirt pocket, who had never been farther away from this place than Phoenix, hesitated now, afraid to reach for the phone or even look at it. What would happen if he did? Christ, what was going on here? He didn't know this guy Vincent Majestyk. Christ, a cold, quiet guy, he didn't know anything about him except he grew melons. He'd hardly ever seen him before.
"How do you want it?" Majestyk said to the attendant.
Watching him, the migrants were grinning, beginning to glance at each other, confident of this man for no reason they knew of but feeling it, enjoying it, stained and golden smiles softening dark faces and bringing life to their eyes, expressions that separated them as individuals able to think and feel, each one a person now, each one beginning to laugh to himself at this gas station man and his boss and his wastebasket and his toilets he could keep locked or shove up his ass for all they cared. God, it was good; it was going to be something to tell about.
"Let them use the toilets," Majestyk said to the attendant. "All right?"
The attendant held on another moment, as if thinking it over, letting them know he was not being forced into anything but was making up his own mind. He shrugged indifferently then and nodded to two keys that were attached to flat pieces of wood and hung from the wall next to the door.
"Keys're right there," the attendant said. "Just don't take all day."
This morning they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waiting patiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus. Most of them, including the few women here, were Chicano migrants, who had arrived in their old junk cars that were parked in a line behind the trucks. Others, the Valley Agricultural Workers Association had brought out from Phoenix, dropping them off at 5:30 A.M. on the outskirts of Edna, where the state road came out of the desert to cross the U.S. highway. The growers and the farm workers called it Junction. There was an Enco gas station on the corner, then a storefront with a big V.A.W.A. sign in the window that was the farm labor hiring hall--closed until next season--and then a café-bar with a red neon sign that said BEER-WINE. The rest of the storefronts in the block were empty--dark, gutted structures that were gradually being destroyed by the desert wind.
The farm workers stood around on the sidewalk waiting to be hired, waiting for the labor contractors to finish their coffee, finish talking to the foremen and the waitresses, and come out and point to them and motion them toward the stake trucks and the blue-painted school bus.
The dozen or so whites were easy to spot. Most of them were worn-out looking men in dirty, worn-out clothes that had once been their own or someone else's good clothes. A tight little group of them was drinking Thunderbird, passing the wine bottle around in a paper bag. A couple of them were sipping from beer cans. Two teenaged white boys with long hair stood off by themselves, hip-cocked, their arms folded over tight white T-shirts, not seeming to mind the early morning chill. They would look around casually and squint up at the pale sky.
The Chicanos, in their straw hats and baseball caps, plaid shirts, and Levis or khakis, with their lunch in paper bags, felt the chill. They would look at the sky knowing it was near the end of the season and soon most of them would be heading for California, to the Imperial and San Joaquin valleys. Some of them--once in a while for something to do--would shield their faces from the light and look in the window of the hiring hall, at the rows of folding chairs, at the display of old V.A.W.A. strike posters and yellowed newspaper pages with columns marked in red. They would stare at the photograph of Emiliano Zapata on the wall behind the counter, at the statue of the Virgin Mary on a stand, and try to read the hand-lettered announcements: Todo el mundo está invitado que venga a la resada--
Larry Mendoza came out of the café-bar with a carry-out cup of coffee in each hand--one black, one cream and sugar--and walked over to the curb, beyond the front of the old blue-painted school bus. Some of the farm workers stared at him--a thin, bony-shouldered, weathered-looking Chicano in clean Levis and high-heeled work boots, a Texas straw funneled low over his eyes and one of them, also a Chicano, said, "Hey, Larry, tell Julio you want me. Tell him write my name down at the top." Larry Mendoza glanced over at the man and nodded, but didn't say anything.
Another one said, "How much you paying, Larry? Buck forty?"
He nodded again and said, "Same as everybody." He felt them watching him because he was foreman out at Majestyk and could give some of them jobs. He knew how they felt, hoping each day to get their names on a work list. He had stood on this corner himself, waiting for a contractor to point to him. He had started in the fields for forty cents an hour. He'd worked for sixty cents, seventy-five cents. Now he was making eighty dollars a week, all year: he got to drive the pickup any time he wanted and his family lived in a house with an inside toilet. He wished he could hire all of them, assure each man right now that he'd be working today, but he couldn't do that. So he ignored them, looking down the sidewalk now toward the Enco station where the attendant was pumping gas into an old-model four-wheel-drive pickup that was painted yellow, its high front end pointing this way. Larry Mendoza stood like that, his back to the school bus and the farm workers, waiting, then began to sip the coffee with cream and sugar.
The Enco gas station attendant, with the name Gil stitched over the pocket of his shirt, watched the numbers changing in the window of the pump and began to squeeze the handle of the nozzle that curved into the gas tank filler, slowing the rotation of the numbers, easing them in line to read three dollars even, and pulled the nozzle out of the opening.
When he looked over at the station he saw the guy who owned the pickup stepping out of the Men's Room, coming this way across the pavement--a dark, solemn-faced man who might have passed for a Chicano except for his name. Vince Majestyk. Hard-looking guy, but always quiet, the few times he had been there. Vincent Majestyk of MAJESTYK BRAND MELONS that was lettered on the doors of the pickup and made him sound like a big grower. Shit, he looked more like a picker than a grower. Maybe a foreman, with his khaki pants and blue shirt. From what the station attendant had heard about him, the guy was scratching to get by and probably wouldn't be around very long. Comes in, buys three bucks worth of gas. Big deal.
He said, "That's all you want?"
The guy, Majestyk, looked over at him as he walked past the front of the pickup. "If you're not too busy you can wipe the bugs off the windshield," he said, and kept going, over toward the school bus and the farm workers crowding around.
The gas station attendant said to himself, Shit. Get up at five in the morning to sell three bucks' worth. Wait around all day and watch the tourists drive by. Four-thirty sell the migrants each a buck's worth. Shit.
Larry Mendoza handed Majestyk the cup of black coffee and the two of them stood watching as Julio Tamaz, a labor contractor, looked over the waiting groups of farm workers, called off names and motioned them to the school bus. There were already men aboard, seated, their heads showing in the line of windows.
"We're almost ready to go," Mendoza said.
"Good ones?" Majestyk took a sip of coffee.
"The best he's got."
"Bob Santos," the labor contractor called out. "And . . . Anbrocio Verrara."
"They're good," Mendoza said.
A frail old man grinned and hurried toward the bus.
"Wait a minute," Mendoza said. "I don't know him. He ever picked before?"
Julio Tamaz, the labor contractor, turned to them with a surprised look. "Luis? All his life. Man, he was conceived in a melon field." Julio's expression brightened, relaxed in a smile as he looked at Majestyk. "Hey, Vincent, nice to see you."
Mendoza said, "That's thirty. We want any more 'n that?"
Majestyk was finishing his coffee. He lowered the cup. "If Julio's got any like to work for nothing."
"Man," Julio said, "you tight with the dollar. Like to squeeze it to death."
"How's my credit?"
"Vincent"--Julio's expression was sad now--"I told you. What do I pay them with?"
"All right, I just wondered if you'd changed your mind." He took a fold of bills out of his pants pocket and handed them to the labor contractor. "Straight buck forty an hour, ten hours' work for a crew of thirty comes to four hundred and twenty. Don't short anybody."
Julio seemed offended now. "I take my percent. I don't need to cheat them."
"Larry'll ride with you," Majestyk said. "He finds anybody hasn't slipped honeydew melons before, they come back with you and we get a refund. Right?"
"Man, I never give you no bums. These people all experts."
Majestyk had already turned away and was walking back to the Enco station.
The attendant with the name Gil on his shirt was standing by the pickup.
"That's three bucks."
Majestyk reached into a back pocket for his wallet this time. He took out a five-dollar bill and handed it to the attendant, who looked at the bill and then at Majestyk. Without a word he turned and leisurely walked off toward the station. Majestyk watched him for a moment, knowing the guy was going to make him wait. He walked off after the guy and followed him into the station, but still had to wait while the guy fooled around at the cash register, shifting bills around in the cash drawer and breaking open a roll of coins.
"Take your time," Majestyk said.
When the bell rang he turned to see a car pulling into the station: an old-model Ford sedan that was faded blue-purple and rusting out, and needed a muffler. He watched the people getting out, moving slowly, stretching and looking around. There seemed to be more of them than the car could hold.
The station attendant was saying, "I'm short of singles. I'll have to give you some change."
There were five of them, four men in work clothes and a young woman, migrants, looking around, trying to seem at ease. The young woman took a bandana from her head and, raising her face in the sunlight, closing her eyes, shook her hair from side to side, freeing it in the light breeze that came across the highwav stirring sand dust. She was a good-looking girl, nice figure in pants and a T-shirt, in her early twenties, or maybe even younger. Very good-looking. Not self-conscious now, as though she was alone with whatever was behind her closed eyes. Two of the men went to the pop machine digging coins out of their pockets.
Beyond the girl the blue-painted school bus passed the station and the state road intersection, moving east down the highway.
"Here you are," the attendant said.
Majestyk held out his hand and the attendant dropped eight quarters into his palm, four at a time.
"Three, that's four and five. Hurry back and see us now."
Majestyk didn't say anything. He gave the guy a little smile. He had enough to think about and wasn't going to let the guy bother him. When he turned to the doorway he had to stop short. The girl, holding the bandana, was coming in and their eyes met for a moment--nice eyes, brown--before she looked past him toward the attendant.