Friday, September 7, 2007
BIG MONEY, Chapter 8
Plenty of parking at the Mexican Grill when Luis bounces us back into his gravel lot. With no bartender to mix drinks for over an hour, Luis’s thirsty customers obviously sought refreshment elsewhere. In Branchtown, drinking loyalties have certain limits.
I’m breathing like a normal Labrador again as Luis flips off the engine. My heart-rate’s taken a dive, too. Probably down to a smooth one-eighty. Don’t think I was meant to aim guns at people. Or maybe it’s the dead-ass blank stare Bluefish just gave me. Gives me the passing thought I might be out of my league.
Luis swings his shoulders to confront Bluefish, holds up the car keys like a prize. “You will forget about the favors?”
Good thing I’ve got Luis, El Hombre. Now that man’s in a league of his own.
Bluefish nods, reaches for the keys. “Sure.”
Don’t know about Luis, but Bluefish’s tone and manner do not sate me with confidence. In fact, it’s impossible to even hope he’s telling the truth. Or maybe I’m just the skeptical type. Being a stockbroker, and all.
Bluefish’s fingers snatch air as Luis yanks the keys back. “I would be a fool to let you withdraw if you do not plan to keep your word.”
Guess Luis agreed with my zero reading of Bluefish’s Sincerity Meter. Bluefish better be careful what he says next, too. I know for a fact Luis has the stomach to kill.
“I’ll keep the bargain,” Bluefish says. “I’m pissed off, yeah, so maybe it don’t sound right. But I’ll forget about the favors, wait for Vick to get back.”
He tried that time. I have hope he might live up to his word. No confidence. Just hope. And actually, “forgetting about the favors” isn’t exactly “I won’t have someone shoot you in the head” either.
Luis gives him the keys to the Suburban.
Inside Luis’s Mexican Grill, my favorite bartender has drinks to make. Not everybody’s gone home. I cover a stool at the empty horseshoe bar, right under Luis’s collection of authentic caballista sombreros, order one of Umberto’s green chili burritos, sides of rice and beans, and a Dos Eques to wash it all down.
An hour later Umberto’s gone home and the last two customers, a middle-aged couple, are sipping coffee. Luis flips off the TV and begins to toss trash, wipe glasses, and towel the counter. When the bar’s clean and ready for tomorrow’s setup, Luis finds two shot glasses and pours us Herradura Gold. A nightcap of warriors. Actually, I guess I was more of a foil. Or maybe a prop. Poncho to Luis’s Cisco Kid.
We salute and drink.
“I’m starting to wonder if I was really meant to be a stockbroker.”
He grunts. “After tonight, it is not unreasonable to have suspicions.”
Luis makes a joke. Unbelievable. “I’m serious. I need to provide for my children, and right now this is where I can make the most money, have the best chance of scoring enough for their education. But is hawking stocks and bonds really what I was born to do? My life’s purpose?”
Luis pulls our glasses off the bar. Guess it’s just one nightcap tonight. “Only you can answer such a question. But I agree that a man should have purpose.”
“I have an old friend who’s a fireman,” I say. “Doesn’t get paid much, and he’s always arriving at the scene before the ambulance, trying to save or resuscitate the most horribly mangled accident victims. But he loves going to work every day because once or twice a shift he’s allowed to drive a giant red diesel truck as fast as he can. He loved racing cars as a kid. Now he loves racing fire trucks. It’s what he was born to do.”
Luis considers my tale. His long fingers are rinsing glasses, holding one up to the light now and then to check for smudges. “Your friend is a lucky man,” he says. “Also a wise one, I think. He knew his purpose when he encountered her.”
“How did he do that? Recognize it?”
“He realized it was a path with heart,” Luis says. “For the injured, and people in fires, it is important that your friend drive fast and drive well.”
“So because his purpose helps people in great need, it is a path with heart?”
“Unlike our Mr. Bluefish,” I say.
“Yes. Unlike our Mr. Bluefish.” Luis slides the shot glasses into a wooden rack over his head. “Have you given thought to what happened tonight?”
“I’m trying to block it out.”
“Do not,” Luis says. “This is a serious matter.”
I nod. “I know.”
“This man Bluefish will almost certainly try to kill us. Perhaps not right away. He would be wise to wait, let us think he has kept his word.”
“Sounds sneaky enough for Bluefish. Did you get a good look at that creep driving...before you changed the shape of his head, I mean?”
Luis ignores me, says, “We must make plans, take special care. Before this is over, we may decide killing Bluefish is our only protection.”
I pull my wallet, find the yellow scrap of paper Mr. Vick gave me Friday night. I show Luis Tony’s name and telephone number.
“Who is Tony?” Luis says.
“My boss said I should call him in case of trouble with his daughter. I did, and he took care of it. I bet he could take care of Bluefish, too.”
Luis switches off the beer signs. “Is this Tony a lawyer? Or a thug like Bluefish?”
“I don’t know.”
“It is of little consequence, I think. This matter must be settled between us and Bluefish.”
Luis is ready to close up. The old couple finish their tea. I’m not sure, but I think Luis may have himself a steady girlfriend these days.
I slide off the barstool. “You mean you and Bluefish will settle it, Luis. I’m not much of a fighter.”
Luis shakes his head. “This is not true, amigo. Myself, I am experienced with many weapons. My favorite is the switchblade, and I handle even the twelve-inch ones with great skill. Yet your words can be more cutting than my biggest knife. Austin Carr fights with his brain and his mouth. And he fights very well.”
Now that’s an interesting take on my Gift for Gab. I always saw my verbal proficiency as a shield, not a weapon. But who am I to argue with a Toltec warrior.