Strolling Ocean Drive on his third day of parole, Harry Healy ran into Leo, whose last name he didn’t learn the weekend they threw Leo into his cell, at a sidewalk café sipping espresso.
Harry started out just Drunk and Disorderly, but when he landed a left on the chin of arresting officer Kenneth Simms, a pack of O’Learys fell on him and dealt him the beating of his life. They knocked out two teeth and fractured the fourth rib on his left side, and one cop bent his arm so sharply behind his back it separated from his shoulder, still popping out from time to time so that Harry had to realign it himself. That didn’t bother him too much, and neither did the rib after the first eight weeks or so, but he was still pissed about the teeth, holes where an incisor and a bicuspid used to be, making him look exactly like the ex-con he now was.
Leo was Drunk and Disorderly too, and he spent the weekend getting orderly while his father’s attorneys tracked down the connections who got him undone.
Leo was twenty-five or thirty. He had a wiry build that was going soft, a superstar jock who got hurt and had his shot at baseball glory ruined. To hear him tell it, anyway. Leo knew a lot of baseball, good memory for stats, and kept Harry entertained talking about great stars Harry had never heard of. He was an okay guy to spend a weekend in jail with.
Harry squinted into the sun. He asked Leo for a Marlboro.
Leo said, "Why don’t you sit down?"
"Because I don’t have any money I wanna spend here, and I hate those faggy little cups of coffee, and I ain’t all that fond of broiling on the concrete, either."
Leo looked at him from behind his sunglasses and his mouth got tight. He waved his Marlboro and shrugged one shoulder. He said, "Hang out, man."
A brunette sashayed past the table. She was carrying a portfolio and switching her hips, wearing patterned hose over a g-string. Or, possibly, no panties at all. Peering at life through lenses tinted brown.
In the sun-bleached afternoon, Harry missed his shades, the spanking new Ray Bans that were among his personal effects when he went inside, but weren’t when they let him go. Harry made his hand into a visor. He followed the brunette with his eyes. "She’s probably a model," he said.
"You think so? What tipped you off?"
"Look at how tall she is and look at her clothes. And her face, well, you can’t see it now, but she was beautiful."
"C’mon, Flash, of course she’s a model. They’re all models down here. It’s the number one industry in this town. I’m thinking of taking a shot at it myself, soon as I get my book together."
Leo was over six feet tall. He had smooth skin and a pointy chin and a nose that had never been broken, and Harry supposed he was good looking, but no more so than a dozen other guys he’d seen that afternoon alone. Besides, the modeling racket meant getting up when the sun was right and wearing make-up and having somebody blow air at you so your hair went flopping in a certain direction. Not a job for a man, he thought, but he didn’t say anything.
"Harry, what’re you doing?"
"Right now? I’m trying to get back to New York."
"Is that right," Leo said. "How much money you got?"
"I don’t know, I got a few bucks." He knew the amount to the penny, $12.97, but there was no reason Leo had to know it, too.
"You feel like making some?"
Harry didn’t know if he liked the way that sounded. "What do I have to do?"
"When was the last time you saw your uncle?"
"My uncle," Harry said. "What uncle? How do you know my uncle?"
Leo looked at him like he knew a secret. "I’m talking about your uncle Manfred."
"Manfred?" Harry said. "You mean Manfred Pfiser?"
He wouldn’t in a hundred years have paired Leo and Manfred. Manfred was New York by way of Rotterdam, a Euro-wiseguy who dealt with the Chinks, in town two, maybe three times a year, and Leo, Leo was strictly Miami. "How do you know Manfred?"
"I know a lot of people," Leo said. "Now listen to me. Your uncle’s here."
"In Miami Beach? No shit."
"He likes the weather. And he heard about your predicament. As your Dutch Uncle, he feels obligated to lend a helping hand."
"Yeah, right," Harry said, "a helping hand. He’s so fucking concerned about me, where was he when they had me locked up like a dog, just for trying to defend myself against a dozen steroid-crazed freaks? Dutch Uncle, my ass."
But Harry sat down anyway, and after he settled in with Leo’s cigarettes and the ten dollar whiskey Leo was paying for, he figured he might as well hear Leo out. Three things became clear: It was easy, it was illegal, and Leo was cutting him a break. Harry wondered why.
Leo was profiling a lilac-colored Guayabera shirt over a white guinea-t. He pulled a container from the left breast pocket, a canister with the Eastman Kodak logo on its lid.
"After you shoot a roll of film, you stash it like this. On the Beach, it’s the most inconspicuous package you could possibly be carrying. ‘A photographer friend took these for me, officer, but since he did the work as a favor, I have to pay to get them developed.’ One of these bad boys holds a quarter ounce. You pack like a dozen rolls in a satchel. The live ones you bury at the bottom. You’re betting he doesn’t get to what he’s looking for. That’s if he stops you at all. See what I’m saying? Totally plausible. Specially if you look the way I do. Hi, darling."
Leo waved to a girl. He pressed the canister into Harry’s palm.
"What’s wrong with a paper sack?" That was the Harry did it whenever he was holding something the law would rather not have him holding. In a plain brown wrapper, an ounce of blow or a sizzling .38 might just as well be a tuna salad on whole wheat.
"My way’s more creative. That’s the trouble with you, Harry. You’ve got no imagination."
"I got plenty of imagination, and what I’m imagining is getting my ass busted collecting Manfred’s money and being thrown back inside, only no Dade County lock-up this time, but a big league jolt in a fucking State Penitentiary. That’s what I’m imagining right now." He put the canister down.
"You don’t wanna do it, don’t do it," Leo said. "Suit yourself."
"I didn’t say that," Harry said. "But I’ve gotta be wondering, what’s in it for you? You know what I mean? What angle’re you working here?"
"Let’s just say I was hung up one time and somebody really helped me out. I believe in karma. I believe in giving back."
Harry doubted Leo believed in a single thing outside his five senses. But what were his options? Knock over some granny for her Social Security check? He’d never hurt anybody that didn’t have it coming, and he wasn’t about to start. He could hustle pool, but that’d only be good till the other sharks got wise. Besides that, he had no back-up here, he was way off his game, and what if he lost?
Leo took off his shades and posed, the tip of an earpiece to a corner of his mouth. His eyes were the same green as the ocean beyond the asphalt and sand on Harry’s right. He looked at Harry and waited, the kind of guy who wanted to make you think he had all the answers.
Harry had to admit, he was curious about the Manfred-Leo connection. Maybe Manfred would shed more light on it.
He took two Marlboros from Leo’s box, lit one, and slid the other behind his ear.
Never a hard-knuckles hood, Manfred Pfiser directed a thriving import-export business from several outlets in Holland.
After suffering forty-seven years of Flemish latency, two marriages and three children, Manfred charged out of the closet and threw his arms around a lifestyle he was twenty years too old for. He loved his cocaine, piles of it, though only when he was partying, compulsive behavior he reserved for New York and now, Harry guessed, Miami Beach, the ideal hideout for any late-flowering fag.
He reveled in his reputation, playing the role with relish during his sprees, benefactoring dozens of runaways and beefcake queens who always had something nice for their Dutch Uncle when Uncle had something nice for them.
Harry met him working security at one of Frankie Yin’s events at the now shuttered Wonderland. It was easy work for a hundred bucks a night, and Harry was happy to get it. He wished Frankie Yin promoted more parties.
Manfred made Yin’s scene three weeks running and cruised Harry a bunch of times before he screwed up the nerve to actually speak to him. His opening, "You look awfully lonely back here," was a line he had to repeat twice on account of the thudding blast of Super Sound, and the cartoony accent that made him hard to understand in even the quietest moments. Harry gunned him down politely, letting him know he wasn’t gay, and on top of that Frankie Yin had a strict rule against yapping with the clientele when you were supposed to be working for him.
And that would’ve been it, if fate hadn’t schemed to bring them together the next afternoon at a bagelry near Harry’s apartment. Harry munched eggs and bacon and toast, and a savagely hungover Manfred, bloodshot and wheezing, sipped black coffee and smoked half a cigarette at a time. He concluded the only cure for his misery would be more coke and more booze, and when he asked Harry where he could score and Harry answered "What’s in it for me?" they had the seedling of a working relationship.
Manfred appeared in the doorway dressed in a monogrammed robe that fell just to the tops of his thighs, his sunburnt skin a radish red rushed by Bain de Soleil.
He said, "Harry Harry Harry." A hefty shot of Ballantine rattled in his hand. "So sad to hear of your recent sorrows, but I only recently learned the news, and why, here you are, among us once again." He sounded like every bad actor who ever played a Nazi. "You really must control that temper."
Harry said, "How about we talk inside?"
"Please, please." He did a hop-step and closed the door. He wasn’t wearing underwear, and as he flounced around the room rearranging chairs, his balls were swinging free outside the robe.
"Let me offer you a toot," he said, fishing for a vial. "And a drink, please have a drink. Have a drink with your uncle Manfred."
He got nellier and nellier the deeper he got into a binge. Auntie Manfred. The graying bags under his eyes hinted at about a thirty-six hour jag.
"I just finished one drink," Harry said, "which is one more than I need at four o’clock in the afternoon." He paced to a spot where he thought he’d be comfortable, but he wasn’t comfortable. The darkened room was smoky and frigid, the canned air chemical and stale.
Manfred put the spoon to his nose and sucked up some powder with a wince. "Is this what you call a reunion? Come on, Harry, you can do so much better than this." He acted like his feelings were hurt, but he always did when he didn’t get his way.
"I’ll tell you what I will take," Harry said, "is one of those mongrel Dutch cigarettes in the orange pack."
Manfred said, "Shore," his accent thick with scotch. He shook a cigarette out and Harry took it.
"So," Manfred said, "you found Leo? He’s a good boy, Leo."
"Leo’s a punk. And I’m pissed off with you."
Manfred clicked his tongue and collapsed on the bed. His robe fell open.
"What is this, some late-breaking bulletin? Leo got locked up with me weeks before my court date, and if somebody, you for instance, had coughed up a couple grand, I wouldn’t have spent the last nine months inside. Do me a favor? Put on some shorts or get dressed or do something so I don’t have to have that dick waving in my face. Don’t tell me this is the first you’re hearing of it."
"Five days ago when I got to Miami. I swear, Harry. Would I let you suffer like that?" He was pouting now, and Harry didn’t know whether or not to believe him. He walked to the dresser and slipped on a pair of silk boxers. He said, "There. Feel better?"
"When I get off the Beach for good is when I’m gonna feel better. Leo said something about a package."
"Patience, Harry. Patience, patience."
Harry’s head was splitting. Manfred was annoying him more than ever, and the roaring air conditioner put a pressure on his sinuses that made him dizzy. "Look," he said, "let’s get this out of the way. I’m wasting time here."
Manfred took another slug of scotch. "Your appointment isn’t till tonight. The only product I’ve got now is in this little jar. I’m waiting for delivery."
"When’s that gonna be?"
"Early this evening. No worries, nephew. We’ll have you on your way by nine o’clock."
Nine o’clock. Five hours to kill. Wonderful.
The Hotel Fiorella was situated south of 4th Street in a part of town the neon didn’t reach, where the Harleys rumbled off the strip and where no heart-stopping brunettes strutted with portfolios under their arms. It cost thirty bucks a night and Harry was one of two or three current residents who wasn’t getting the tab covered by welfare.
It wasn’t the crazies or cripples, the winos or crackheads, that sickened him about life at the Fiorella, it was the idea of lives that had stopped. Of people who’d fallen over the edge and weren’t coming back. They slumped in the lobby, paralyzed by the television’s buzzing, unblinking eye, chain-smoking and dropping butts on the tiles, butts nobody bothered to sweep up, sixteen hours a day.
One evening, Harry’d seen a red-skinned infant, a week out of the hospital, tops. It hung at its mother’s breast, wailing at the world from the bottom of its tiny lungs. Harry couldn’t stop thinking about that kid. What were the odds it wasn’t going to die in a place exactly like this one, or worse?
With the blinds shut and a chair wedged under the doorknob, Harry calmed in the cool grey of his room. He sank into the rut of the mattress, smoking a Dutch cigarette, the evening ahead unfolding like a movie in his mind. He floated back to Manfred’s hotel through the neon-lit mob, and took directions from the Dutchman. Money in hand after the job, he saw himself sweating out the dawn in some Greyhound station.
He rolled out of the mattress and peeled off his shirt. He dropped to the floor, squeezed off fifty pushups. Harry struck some poses for the mirror, shoulder flex, biceps flex, side view. Jailhouse muscles. He shot a sneer at the mirror, then two jabs and a right, mumbling curses at his reflection. Starting another combination, his left went long and whacked the mirror flush. The mirror shattered.
He ran cold water over his knuckles and lay down again. He thought he was too wound up to sleep, but before long he lapsed into a dream. He was eating a sandwich in a glassed-in café, his eyes traveling over the gardening column of a newspaper. There was a photograph of a tulip, but the caption claimed it was a rhododendron. Harry had no idea what a rhododendron looked like, but the flower in the picture was a fucking tulip if he ever saw one. A guy he thought he knew started knocking on the window, pounding so hard Harry was scared the pane would come crashing in like the mirror had, and then he was awake and somebody outside was hammering on the door.
Harry said, "What time is it?"
"Time for you to either pay up or get the fuck out," a voice said, and Harry listened as feet shuffled away from the door and down the hall.
There wasn’t much to pack, underwear and socks, some toilet things he threw into a bag, crunching shards on his way out. He took the back exit to an alley, then cut through to the street and into the first sluggish trickle of the throng on Ocean Drive.
If he’d been looped in the afternoon, by the time Harry got back to Manfred’s room the Dutchman was in a full-on frenzy. One hand on his waist, one wrist flapping a faggot burlesque, the whites of his eyes laced with ruptured capillaries that shone pink in the half-light.
The air conditioner was still blasting, and the refrigerated air roiled with cigarette stink and a new offender, a musky cologne Manfred had slathered on. Somebody’d been dispatched to the liquor store. The Ballantine bottle sat drained on a nightstand, but there was a fresh one riding shotgun.
"Okay," Harry said, "where am I going?"
"You know, Harry, you must never fix those teeth. The gaps, I find them terribly hot." He brought out a two-gram vial. It brimmed. "Tootski?"
"Do a little bump with your uncle. Harry, for old times."
Harry turned in his bottom lip. The last thing he needed was a toot. A hit, a bump, a blast. He wiped his palms on his jeans. "You know what, Manfred? I’ll take a drink."
The bathroom door was open, and the shower was running. Steam humidified the room, and a whiff of the hotel’s brand of shampoo churned in the gumbo of odors. Harry stifled a gag.
He swallowed Manfred’s stingy measure, grabbed the fifth and poured a shot that’d loosen the knot in his gut. The vial was uncapped again, and Manfred held a heaping spoonful under Harry’s left nostril. Harry passed. Manfred pumped the coke into his own head.
"What I need from you is the package and the address, and I need to get this over. I don’t feel good about committing another felony three days out of the joint, and I’d just as soon put it behind me. You know what I’m saying?"
Harry was desperate to get out of the room before whoever it was, the juvie boy-toy, he guessed, climbed out of the shower, but it was already too late. The water quit splashing and he heard the clack of plastic, hooks sliding along the curtain rod. A second later, out stepped a blonde making a show of covering her body with a towel. Two things Harry noticed: her skin tone, basted to a succulent bronze, and her nipples, peaked, brown, peeping over the edge of the towel. How full of change-ups could one degenerate Dutchman be?
"Har-ry," he said, drawing out both syllables like he was calling him from another room, "This is Jennifer." The old queen pronounced the J like it was a Y, Yennifer. He knew the difference, but he was way past the point of caring.
She played it cute, this chick, making no attempt to pull the towel higher. She took a few things from a suitcase, then glancing at Harry, she went back into the bathroom and clicked the door shut.
"You yum yum," Manfred slurred. "Shore you can’t spend a few more minutes with your uncle? And Yenny?" He cupped his hand over Harry’s crotch and gave his balls a squeeze.
Harry gave him an easy shove and said, "Will you give it a rest? Are we gonna do this deal, or what?"
Jennifer warbled a Patsy Cline tune from behind the door, way off key. Manfred weaved a circular path toward the closet, really gone, and turned around clutching a double-bagged bundle the size of a bar of soap. He stopped to freshen his drink, and handed Harry the package. "One ounce," he said. He had one eye closed. The other pinwheeled Harry into focus. "One thousand dollars."
"What’s the guy expecting to pay?"
"You be a do-right nephew. You don’t fuck around."
"What’d you say I’m getting paid for this?"
"Come on, Harry. Leo told you the deal. Two hundred bucks."
Small potatoes all around. Manfred must’ve been doing somebody a favor. Somebody besides Harry. This was embarrassing.
"One more question, uncle. What’s to stop me from beating town with your cash? Seriously?"
Manfred tried to give the impression that he had that angle covered, but Harry saw the possibility was just dawning on him. He blinked twice and said through a squint, "Tragic. Positively tragic. You have no idea how deeply wounded is your uncle."
He considered. "Of course. There is nothing to prevent you from this terrible deed, nothing but your conscience." He admired Harry through a single, loving eye. "Dear, dear boy. You would never do such a thing in a thousand years. You don’t have it in you."
It was a postcard Miami evening. Palm trees rippled with the breeze, the scent of salt water on the air.
At the wheel of Manfred’s rented Mustang, Harry hadn’t counted on this traffic: Tourists captained convertibles idling alongside hot rods cranking brass-brittle Latin tunes; family wagons stuffed with dusky chiquitas, lacquered and spritzed for a night of clubbing. Waiting through three light changes at Espanola, Harry saw the same valet jog past him twice, once coming, once going, and it took half an hour to drive ten blocks.
Traffic didn’t start to flow till Harry hit the mid-20s, rolling past hotels that lodged legitimate Manfreds. He cruised into the 40s, where non-divorced Manfreds lingered whole seasons. From there it was another ten or fifteen minutes, prowling a hushed suburb, before Harry had to pay attention to the street signs. The address wound up being an efficiency motel designed in the classic South Florida style, an L-shaped two-level affair that boxed a drained pool and parking spaces.
Neon letters spelled out CANCY. The building was a charmless knock-off on the Fiorella theme. Harry headed for the north wing of the L and scaled a staircase to a catwalk, pink and pea-green paint chipped off in splotches. Where they weren’t flickering or blown out, florescent tubes crackled outside each room. The door to 206 was thrown open. Harry flinched behind TV gunplay, glanced at a man in Bermudas, smoking and watching a cop show. He didn’t look up as Harry walked by.
Room 202 occupied northernmost tip of the L. Electronic disco thumped behind the door. Harry gave it three sharp raps. The noise cut out and the door flew open on a muscular man about Harry’s age.
His arms and shoulders were swollen like a lot of guys in the joint who pumped massive iron. If there was ever any hair on his chest he’d had it shaved smooth. He knew what Harry was there for, but his eyes betrayed a nervous, scheming gleam. He was obviously expecting somebody else.
"You are not Leo," he said, in some kind of accent from Scandinavia. The guy could’ve been a Swede. Possibly a Dane. He had both nipples pierced with thick-gauged pewter rings.
"You got me there, pal. I’m not Leo. My name is Harry. Manfred sent me."
"We don’t know you." He skipped a beat. "Did you bring the stuff?"
Harry had the package hidden under his jacket, rewrapped in a brown paper sack. He showed to the guy. "Be better if we did business indoors, wouldn’t it?"
The Swede stepped aside, wearing leather hotpants that laced up the crotch. He had a partner, a bald black man with a charcoal complexion who must’ve gone 6’6". He was built like an unraveled wire hanger and sported a baby-blue negligee over a matching bra and briefs. He gave Harry the up and down and said, "Bon soir."
Harry said, "How you doing."
The black guy told him his name was Javier, and introduced the Swede as Sven. Sven. Harry bit back a laugh.
Sven was tugging a nipple ring, antsy. "Let’s have the stuff," he said.
"You have to forgive my husband," Javier said, "for being so impatient. You are quite late, but I understand South Beach traffic is positively murderous, especially on these high season evenings. Make yourself at home."
Harry scanned the room. He would’ve sat on one of the two chairs, but both were stacked high with laundry, some of it clean, and from the smell of it, some from an afternoon at the beach.
"You know, I’d stick around, but with that traffic, I should get back to Manfred. He’s probably already wondering what happened to me."
"Manfred can wait," Sven said. "He can wait and so can you."
Okay, so he’d caught a pair of aces. Leo hadn’t said a word about these two. Presumably he’d been able to handle them. Maybe Leo wasn’t such a creampuff after all.
The Swede was the one to watch, jonesing heavy for his blow, getting edgier by the second. Harry figured he’d have his hands full with this guy, who outweighed him by twenty pounds and, judging by the muscles, had to be strong. He took a glance, to see what he could use as a weapon, then lit a cigarette, the last of Manfred’s, which could always be ground into an eye or a pierced nipple. He looked over at Javier. Hard to imagine this skyscraper drag queen as an ally, but that was the way it was shaping up.
Harry handed Sven the package. Sven took it out of the sack, dropped the sack on the floor, and unraveled the baggie. He held up the coke to the naked light bulb, kneading it, but the bulk of the ounce was one rock, and it didn’t break.
Sven said, "Hmmmm." He set it on the table. "You first."
Javier was on the bed, his back against the headboard, his ridiculous spider legs double-crossed. He dangled a backless slipper from the biggest foot Harry had ever seen. "Your drama is boring. This is our Dutch Uncle. All the boys are very dear to Uncle Manfred."
"This is not Manfred," Sven said. "This is not Leo. This is somebody we’ve never seen, and you want to hand him a thousand dollars for a product we haven’t even tested. You stupid faggot."
Javier gave him a stricken look, then stared at his giant feet.
Harry was done being polite. "Listen, sport, you either want the shit or you don’t. In fifteen seconds I’m walking out the door with this package or a thousand dollars. Your move. Make up your mind."
"My mother always said it," Javier said. "Rudeness begets rudeness."
"Shut up," Sven said. He took three steps to the dresser, and reached into the back of a drawer. Instead of the bundle of bills Harry was hoping to see, the Swede was holding a pistol, a Colt .45 automatic, and he was pointing it at Harry’s chest.
Harry said, "Terrific," and Javier started a gasp that got stuck in his throat.
Sven wagged the Colt toward the chair that was cluttered with beach gear. "Move that shit and sit down. Javier," he said, "get up. My hands are full."
Javier teetered on his mules. He dumped the one big stone and whatever shake there was onto a mirror, working the smaller pieces with a razor blade, slicing and dicing, a rhythmic clicking. His pink tongue poked through his lips in concentration.
Harry eyed the gun, the hand that held the gun, the arm attached to the hand that held the gun. Here he was, kept at bay by a muscle queen in leather panties. Two comic book fags making him look bad. No getting around it.
Javier chopped three lines. An entire half of him bent over the table, he had a straw to his nostril, about to suck up the powder.
Sven stopped him. "He goes first."
Harry kept quiet about blow not being his thing, how it always got him in trouble. He already was in trouble. He huffed half the line into his right nostril, the other half into his left. A little sting, the coke was up his nose and into his head, trickling down his throat. He gagged. Too much. He gagged again. A-1 product. His heart was thumping and his palms remoistened.
"Outstanding product," he said, feeling brotherly toward the Swede threatening his life. "Excellent."
Sven looked unconvinced. He cocked one blonde eyebrow, flipping his gaze between Harry and Javier. He gestured to Javier, who deadpanned, "I know what to do. Trust me."
It was a long line, about five inches, and fat. Javier horked it all in one short sniff. He pinched his nostril closed and rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Ho, yes, child," he said. "Ho, yes." He pressed his fingertips together and smiled a jack o’ lantern smile, except he had straight white teeth. Every single one.
Sven took his turn hunched over the powder. He snorted. Half the line went up. He straightened and smacked his lips, both eyes looking left, like he was trying to remember something. On the return trip, Harry slammed both forearms down on his neck, driving his face into the mirror. Cartilage crunched, and glass. The gun hit the carpet. Harry dove for it and tumbled, rolling crouched to his feet.
Javier froze flamingo-like, one knee pulled up, screeching. Two hands, enormous hands, waving. Six feet six and fucking useless in a beef. Unbelieveable.
Harry faced off against the humbled Swede, palms overlapping his beak, blood running onto his hairless chest. Harry was stunned, realizing this was all the fight he was going to get, but once he figured it out he leaned in and cracked Sven over his left ear with the Colt. Sven dropped to his knees. Harry fed him another short sweet one. He sank to all fours, then crumpled, nighty-night to his side.
Javier’s eyes, locked on Harry’s, darted down to the gun. Two yips from hysteria, the perma-howl of joy or fear an inch from his throat, Javier did not scream, and for this, Harry was grateful. A chuffing sound came from Javier’s lips, forming words. "Did you?" he managed. "Is he?"
"His nose might sit a little to one side, and he’ll have a headache with some genuine staying power, but he’s far from dead. Listen." Harry wound up and kicked the Swede square in the gut. He coughed and sputtered, moaning low.
"See?" Harry said. "Told you. Now you, Javier, are who I’m interested in. A fully conscious, able-bodied individual, holding Uncle’s money. You are going to find Uncle’s money and you are going to give it to me now, right now, or I swear to Christ I’ll blow your fucking head off. I don’t see you moving."
"I cannot allow you to use that vile language in the same sentence with the name of my personal Lord and Savior."
A tremendous piece of work, this Javier.
"You’re a decent guy, Javier. You’re a freak but you’re a decent guy, and as a decent guy, I know you’re determined to do the right thing. Do me a favor, buddy. I need to get that money, and I need to get out of here."
Javier sifted through the pockets of a suede carcoat and pulled out a knot that was probably hundreds. With shaking hands, he tried to count out a thousand, or whatever it was Harry was supposed to get. It was almost like it didn’t matter anymore.
Harry said, "Javier, get in the bathroom." He leveled the gun. "Now."
Javier obeyed, walking toward the toilet, the stack of bills in his fist.
"Javier. Stop. Leave the money on the table. Okay, now go on, get in there."
"What’re you going to do?"
"Why don’t you just let me worry about that?" Harry said. "When a man aiming an automatic weapon at you tells you to do something, you don’t debate him. You fucking do it. Are you with me?"
Harry dragged a chair across the floor and wedged it under the doorknob. Once Javier was scared enough, he’d find all the strength he needed to break out of there, but Harry would be miles away before that happened, or before the Swede scraped himself off the carpet.
He stuffed the Colt into his jeans and leafed through the bills. Seventeen hundred and change. The change, two twenties, a ten and a five, he left on the table. The rest he put in his pocket. Thinking twice about ripping off their ounce, too, he carved a thick line and sucked it up with a twenty. Sven whimpered in Swedish. He rolled from his side to his belly, but that was as far as he got.
For a guy with fairly good intentions three days out of stir, Harry was having no trouble racking up the felonies. Let’s see, you had possession, intent to distribute, and sale of narcotics, for a start. Robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and the all-time classic number-one no-no for any ex-con, concealing a handgun, although not too well, in his waistband.
Steadying the wheel with his knee, Harry twisted out of his jacket and wiped down the Colt. He was about to cross a bridge on some back road that ran parallel to Collins Avenue. He pulled over. He could smell the ocean. No streetlights, not a single car or the dimmest headlamp in any direction, just a crescent moon waning against a star-splattered sky. He held the gun by its trigger guard and dropped it into the canal.
Harry ran through his story to Manfred. Basically, there was no story to Manfred. It all went smooth. Here’s your cash, I got lost on the way back. Take care and thanks. I am so gone from this miserable town, the man you see before you is but a hallucination.
He drove on, fighting South Beach traffic all the way back to Manfred’s hotel.
On the way up in the elevator, Harry thought about his trip to New York. Seven-hundred dollars to the good, the bus was out. Harry would be flying. He was going to report to that parole officer, all ready to be good, and he was going to say, Hey, I’m right here.
Only something wasn’t right. It wasn’t adrenaline or nerves or cocaine jitters, though Harry was feeling all of those. But something wasn’t right and he didn’t know what. From behind Manfred’s door, he could hear a Pasty Cline song blaring, a recording of the real thing this time. Nobody answered when he knocked, so Harry tried the knob and let himself in.
Manfred was sprawled in the center of the room, one leg pulled in, the other stiffening straight out from his torso. He’d been shot with a small caliber pistol, once real close from what Harry could bring himself to see. Powder burns rimmed a wound at the base of his skull. The satin bathrobe was thick with blood. His mouth and eyes were set in mischief, like Manfred had been poised to float one of his idiotic suggestions before the bullet went in.
Harry’s forehead was wet at the hairline and his breath got short, fear choking off his air. He’d better figure out what to do quick, and get out. He tiptoed around the pool of blood and shut up Patsy Cline. The silence made it easier to think. He swallowed three thirsty pulls of Ballantine, and wiped down the bottle and both glasses with a towel. Bringing up one acidic belch, he switched off the lights. He walked out and shut the door.
A drunk couple nattering in French fumbled with their keys, oblivious as Harry went past.
Leaving the scene of a murder. Another felony. No question.
The upside was this: He had just made a considerable accidental score. The down: If they caught him they’d try him for murder, and he’d have a bitch of a time talking his way out of it. And they’d catch him. Nobody had seen him on the way in, but there was Leo, and Jennifer, and the Surfside fags, and the fact he was registered under his real name at the Fiorella. They’d find out about him, and then they’d come for him. He’d have let the whole roll ride on that. The question was when, and where.
He took the Mustang and immediately regretted it. He was on the Interstate headed north, putt-putting in the right hand lane, every car on the road whizzing past him. The Florida Highway Patrol car tailing him for the last ten minutes changed lanes, gaining speed. The trooper closed to an eighth of a mile. His lights flashed silently and Harry closed his eyes. You stupid motherfucker. What were you thinking?
He pulled onto the shoulder, scattering gravel under the tires.
He hurled a prayer into the indigo sky. Holy Mary, Mother of God. The trooper screamed past and hit the siren. A second unit was on his bumper. A third, in the southbound lane, hooked a U and joined them. And then a group of motorists cruised past, in exact replicas of Manfred’s rental, in Sunbirds and Escorts, in mini-vans and pick-ups made in Japan. The road was still for a moment, then the next cluster of vehicles zipped by.
Harry got off the highway in a town called Hollywood, and drove around the back of an all-night mini-mart. He wiped down the keys and the steering wheel and the seats and pitched the keys into some thick weeds next to the lot. Breaking a hundred, he bought three packs of Marlboros and a bag of peanut M&Ms. The cashier snapped suspicious gum and wore huge pink-framed glasses connected to a chain. Three o’clock in the morning, she was telling him to have a nice day.
This street was like Hollywood’s main drag, Florida route something or other, running north and south. Where he was going and what he was going to do when he got there, he didn’t know, but he walked north. North was as good a direction as any. They’d catch up to him eventually, he had to admit that, but not tonight. No way. Not tonight.
Copyright © 2005 by Peter Pavia.