Friday, August 22, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 55

Spooky how you can savagely dislike someone on initial eye contact. Their size and shape. Their expression. Don’t know if the feeling’s been natured or nurtured, but when instant aversion kicks me in the ass, hostility and venom rise from deep within.

My gaze locks onto a tall blond man watching the front door as I push inside Luis’s Mexican Grill. Surfer Dude’s wearing knee-length white bathing shorts and a blue T-shirt that says “Can I Put My Burrito in Your Taco?” yet he has the balls to sneer at me while I dance through five or six people waiting for tables.

This single, nonverbal exchange produces a lizard-brain reaction in me of distrust, fear, animosity, and adrenaline. I haven’t wanted to punch a stranger this badly since April Higgins kicked my nuts first day of kindergarten. My feelings about this big blond surfer asshole aren’t logical. They must be prehistoric.

“Hi, Austin.”

Whoa. I’m so busy puffing macho across the noisy restaurant, I’ve failed to notice my bar-area co-occupant, Gina Farascio, her long black hair returned to those wavy curls that Big Daddy imagines spread out before him on a pillow. Curls-to-straight, then back to wavy curls. The lovely Gina must spend as much time doing her dew as I do thinking about sex.

Well, almost.

Gina squeezes my shoulder as she leans in to buss my cheek. Her perfume conjures a summer flower garden, and I can’t help it, my hand instinctively reaches for her waist. Her flesh beneath the black cocktail dress electrifies my fingertips.

“I didn’t see you when I came in,” I say.

Gina pulls away, her gaze locked on mine. “No? What were you looking at?”

I toss her the famous full-boat Carr grin while I dream up a response. I’m looking for clever, flattering, and pithy. Let’s see. How about, “I can’t remember anything before you said hello.”

Her midnight eyes light up like the sky before dawn.

The Gift of Gab has its moments.

I’m on a stool, my back to the front door, when the hubbub level of Luis’s restaurant plunges.

I wrest my attention from Gina to glance down the bar. Dozens of faces are expressing concern. Their gazes seem to have focused on the entrance, or already lowered themselves in submission. Can’t be zombies or masked gunmen. No one’s screaming. Maybe it’s just the threat of violence all these people are worried about.

“Bluefish,” Gina says.

I swivel more, enough to glimpse what most everyone else’s eyes are already glued to like the finals of American Idol. “And Creeper,” I say. “The guy who kidnapped my daughter.”

Beth didn’t have a serious wound on her, the doctor told me. Emotionally or physically. And late last night on the telephone, my daughter told me Creeper mostly behaved like a gentleman, only frightened her when he locked her in the car trunk and drowned some kittens.

The trunk thing pisses me off and murdering kittens is so gruesome I don’t want to think about it. But maybe my anger at the giant creepola should have limits. He didn’t hit, rape, or kill my daughter. Not much to expect of another human being, I suppose, but Creeper being Creeper, I figure the big oaf basically behaved himself.

Jerry, Mr. Diamond, struts and shines between Bluefish and Creeper, the three of them like malevolent cartoon rats--Creeps, Sparkles, and Snake, the boss--parading into some kitchen for a really big cheese heist.

“You’d think making bail, Bluefish would head for places unknown,” I say.

“Bluefish is here to see me,” Luis says.

I reverse direction again to check my favorite bartender. Luis has been extremely busy since I came in. Barely had time to wave hello and take my order. Glad the fire did so little structural damage he’s back raking in the coin already. But someone should tell him all the food tastes like smoke. I don’t have the chilies.

“You and Bluefish have an appointment?” I say.

Luis leans across the bar to kiss Gina on the cheek. Gee. Never saw him do that before. To anyone. There’s a tenderness in his movements, a vulnerability I’ve never witnessed. Or am I imagining too much?

“Bluefish and I have unfinished business,” Luis says. “I knew only that he would come.”

“Me, too,” Gina says.

Huh? The combined fragrances of green chili, onion, cilantro, and warming corn tortillas grows overpowering. My forehead pops beads of sweat like I’m being held over a pot of bubbling verde sauce.

“What the hell is going on?” I say.

The two of them stare at me. Luis solemn and resolute. Gina’s smile sporting an odd twist.

Why is Gina here, by the way?

Click the headline, BIG MONEY Chapter 55, for a list of independent and Border's bookstores that recently had signed copies of my books for sale. These people are friends, and want me to survive as a series character. Buy from one of them, and I'll have TFA send you a T-shirt. AC

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