Friday, April 18, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 37

Gaunt lines condense Luis’s ancient face, as if the five or so pounds he lost in the hospital pushed his primitive features back further in time. His piercing, roasted-coffee eyes shine even sharper. Hawkish.

“It is my experience that only under most unusual and extreme circumstances should one say no to the Federales,” Luis says. “Perhaps only if they ask, ‘Would you like a blindfold?’”

After encouraging me and Luis to step outside and talk privately, Ms. Strawberry--Ace Jersey Trooper--watches us from inside the warm and massive kitchen, her gaze unflinching behind the side door’s glass window. Framed and pretty as a picture.

“Did you just make a joke?” I say to Luis.

“Are we not laughing?”

Luis not only looks more ancient, I think he’s getting prehistorically mystical on me. I shiver. It’s cold out here on this little side-entrance porch.

“They’re State-erales by the way, and I ask again, Luis: How the hell did the New Jersey Troopers get involved? I requested you and your Jeep, not Franny Dahler. Or Chapman. Or whatever the hell her name is.”

Trooper/Coffee maker Stuart smokes a cigarette maybe forty yards away from us, snug in his Northface jacket, pacing east and west along the edge of the budding maple and oak forest. Silver vapors rise from his burning tobacco. Stuart’s rubber soles squish on a soggy blanket of decades-old fallen leaves.

“Cap-i-tan Chapman overheard our telephone conversation,” Luis says. “She marched into my hospital room with her many men and demanded that she be included in your rescue. What was I to do?”

“She must have been showing off for her troops. Wanting to come along for the potential shootout. But how did she overhear our conversation? Did she say my cell phone was tapped?”

“I think my hospital room,” Luis says.

His breath materializes as it glides through the yellow porch light. Must be in the low forties outside on this exposed cement slab. Lucky there’s no wind. My nuts would freeze-up and fall off like early flower buds.

I turn my gaze on Franny inside the house. Definitely a hard edge to her, those now-frosty green eyes, but certainly a knockout. That copper-blonde hair all fluffy around her chiseled face. I don’t like that she tapped Luis’s phone, though.

“Your anger is misplaced,” Luis says. “Without the capitan’s covering fire tonight, the rifleman’s bullets would have found us.”

I nod. I must have been frowning at her. “You’re right. I think both of you saved my life. Thanks for showing up, risking yourself.”

“Thank you for seeing your error. It is clearly your most admirable quality. Now please explain to me why you will not identify this Mama Bowls.”

So my pal Luis Guererro does want me to flip state’s evidence. No wonder Ms. Strawberry let us have this private time together. “One big reason, Luis. Mama Bones, B-O-N-E-S, saved my life last night. Two, she’s Mr. Vick’s mother. A friend.”

Luis’s penetrating gaze seems to have texture as it passes into my soul. My eyes itch from the transmission. Must be some kind of ancient Toltec thing. Luis saying, “But it is better I think that we let the police arrest Bluefish, is it not?”

“Better than what?”

Luis’s careful gaze rises to the block of pure starlight between the roof of the Tudor and the thick forest. “Better than killing him. Even success could bring us failure.”

Hard to argue with that. “I can’t give up Mama Bones, Luis. Not after what she did for me.”

Luis eyes a star he likes. “Then we will have to kill Bluefish,” he says. “Only your testimony could make the capitan arrest him now and save us this task.”

I don’t like it. “Why can’t I just hide out for a week or two, hope Captain Franny puts Bluefish away without my help?”

Luis brings his gaze back to earth. He nods at me, resigned, but his face stays hopeful. Has my favorite bartender thought of something I failed to consider? Or am I about to once more sense the touch of Luis’s ancient Toltec magic?

“What if you only pretend to identify this Mama Bones?” he says.

Pretend? “What exactly do you mean, pretend?”

“You’ve made the right move, Carr,” Franny says an hour later. “But are you sure you want Detective Mallory to know you’re staying with me until I can assemble a State Grand Jury? I don’t have to tell anybody locally.”

“No, I want you to tell Mallory,” I say. “He’s in touch with my children.”

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