Pershing Square was right there. Take a left on Fifth and viola, the entrance to the underground parking garage. Maybe Willie walked over. Something was nagging him about the place. The sense of the subterranean had put the juju on him. Caves are always a mystery. Going down, down, down into the self. It’s why we dig. Why we grow things and build. We’re always searching for the self. Who are we? What are we? We’ll only figure it out if we go underneath. Climb down through the caverns and pick through the stalactites of the subconscious. What will you find?
It was either the parking garage or Skid Row. Big Willie couldn’t have gone far on his shoeless feet. Pershing Square pulled me. It was more attractive than a war zone. I pulled the truck into the garage, taking a ticket, the sign on the gate said it would cost me eighteen dollars for thirty minutes. I went down to the bottom level and parked. A handful of cars down there. I didn’t see that Mercedes that’d picked up Brenda.
Big, wet footprints led toward the door on the eastern wall. The Hill Street side. The prints weren’t so wet as they were damp. It was humid. The place smelled of Sulphur and sewage. I followed the footprints over to the door.
The door wouldn’t budge when I tried it. I stood there like an idiot for about an hour wondering where the cameras were in this place. I didn’t see any. There had to be someone watching. There’s always someone watching and laughing. Then a gust of wind, a trick of ventilation in modern building, whooshed through the cavern and the door popped open. Someone opening a door somewhere else, causing a pocket of pushed air.
I swung the door open and couldn’t make out any footprints. But the big man had been this way. I could smell him. A meager drift of his body odor hung in place. The corridor was like the one on the other side. Shiny, cement floor lit up by fluorescents above. Clean as a whistle. A slight hum coming from metal pipes lining the ceiling, that seemed to go up into darkness and have no end.
The door slammed behind me with a whamming in the ears. The place was sealed off now. A tomb. Down the hallway then. My shoes squeaked on the varnished floor. It was so loud that the thought of tippy toeing seemed a good option. If anyone were in there with me, they would hear me coming. Maybe that was good thing.
The hallway went on forever. But really it just went across the street. Under the building I was just in. The Jewelry Exchange. Eventually the hallway came to another door and on the other side of that was a room with a service elevator.
Big Willie was in there, sitting on a black, plastic, milk-crate, picking his toenails. “Took you long enough.” He sighed.
“To do what?”
“This how they did it.”
“Fuck you talking about?”
“I looked up them robberies you was talking about.” Willie stopped picking his feet and pulled out his flip phone.
“You get the internet with that thing?”
He made a face like; you’d be surprised at what kind of technology they’re producing today. I was and I wasn’t. You get used to the awe of progression and it only leaves you feeling empty inside.
“They used that parking lot.” Willie flipped his phone shut. It made a flat thwapping sound. “They either follow him in, or they waiting down here beforehand, they already know his routine. The stories say they jacked these fools in broad daylight. Usually followed them until they could get em in a remote spot.”
“Why not just do it here, in the garage?”
Big Willie shrugged. “Too many cars, somebody could walk out at any moment. Plus, it’s too clumsy getting out, you gotta wait on the gate to open and shit.”
“What else those news stories say? They give names of people they arrested for the robberies? What they jacked?”
“Just some Hispanic dudes doing the deeds.” Big man shook his head. “They don’t say what they stole.”
“Does it name the victims?” Right hand in my back pocket, feeling the felt-bag.
Big Willie shook his head again.
“What about the Latino names? Salvadorean?”
A more massive shrug than before. An aggressive rolling of the shoulders that sent a point across planets. “You wanna connect dots so bad, you see em dancing around in front of you like dust motes.” He reached out and made a fist. “Just reach out and grab em.”
“You think I’m making it up as I go?”
“Don’t we all?”
The elevator pinged.
We both jumped like little kids at a horror movie. The door slid open in slow motion. An hour went by and the door was still sliding open. We had time to look at each other and place bets on who or what would walk out. Turns out we were both right.
We saw her legs first. Or, a leg. It looked familiar in its red, flakiness. In its raw, itchiness and inflamed skin. Big Willie and I breathed a sigh of relief, though, when Brenda stepped off that elevator.
She looked at us like we were both out of place. In positions we shouldn’t be in. We were not where she left us. “Fucking A.” She sighed, stepped off the elevator with legs you wouldn’t think could work.
“Fuck you doing, Brenda?” Big Willie greeted her.
“I’d ask you the same, but I don’t even wanna fucking know.” She took two steps forward and stopped, her bowed-legs trembling. “You still hanging out with this motherfucker?” She didn’t bother to look at me.
Willie didn’t bother to answer.
“Back so soon?” I mused. “Wasn’t that you in that Mercedes earlier?”
Brenda finally gave me a look. It was one of those things that could stop you from breathing if you weren’t careful and found yourself returning the gaze. Just focus on the serpents in her hair and you’ll be alright.
“You got some jewelry you need appraising?” Willie distracted her from trying to turn me into stone.
“Fuck you, Willie Winsboro.” Brenda started slowly stepping away from the elevator. “And fuck this Creole cunt you brung with you.”
She moved past me, my back toward the corridor door. Before I could turn, something tapped me on the head. It didn’t feel like much. Maybe when you tap your head on a cupboard, lightly. But then the lights went out. Just like that. The last thing I remember was Willie’s face, no expression, always a bored look.
There are no dreams down that far. Down there with the particles and sand and the nothingness of time. Limbo. But no one cares. There is no caring. You float down there. You’re free down there. In all that blackness, you learn to let go. Then you wake up and forget that liberty, as it were, is just a forgotten dream.
You wake up to the same face that left you. That visage that started out in the land of the Phoenicians. Made its way over the waters to Mexico maybe. And then back to Africa and maybe back again. They’ve been here the whole time, traversing the world, over and over again. We’ve been here, cruising the same figure-eight over and over.
“My man had a Billy-club.” Big Willie’s voice pulled me up out of blackness.
“Oh yeah?” I found I was sitting up against a wall. “See you still comfortable over there.”
Willie was still sitting on that plastic, milk-crate. “He had a gun too.”
“Who?” I felt the back of my head. A big bump was throbbing back there.
“Dude hit you on the head.”
“Who was he? You get a good look at him?”
He nodded. “Same dude in that car that picked Brenda up, I think.”
I tried dipping my head into a nod but all it did was rumble pain around in my noggin. “Fuck are those two up to?”
“I don’t know, but I gotta say, I think that’s the same dude that was in lock up with us.”
Curiousness snaked through the pain. “What?”
“I think it was the same dude.”
“You think, huh.” I brought a knee up to my chest, thinking of standing up. “Man had gun on you, right.”
Big Willie didn’t answer that. Wasn’t even in the form of a question, so who can blame him. I put a hand down on the concrete and lifted myself up, sliding up the wall. My head was still swimming, but managed to get on two feet.
“You staring down the barrel or looking the guy in the eyes?” Putting more of a question to the big man.
“You think they got something to do with them robberies?” He ignored my question.
“What time is it?” I reached for my phone in my pocket.
“Nine o’clock.” Willie still hadn’t stirred from that crate.
My phone said the same. But there was a notification hanging out on the screen. Somebody’s following you. Somebody new. You better go and look. Open the app and let the algorithms take you away. Okay. There was nothing I had better to do. I swiped and poked till I got to the app and found my way to my new friend.
Edwina Flores was her name.
Wait. Edwina. Ed.
I went through her pictures. Luckily, they were all of her. Selfies. The great builder of confidence and narcissism. But also, a great target to peruse for creeps of the stalker persuasion. Easy pickings. Most of the time they even tagged the locations. A careless rummaging of spots on a map could give you ideas. The only one I had was more of a question. How did she find me on this app? In such a short time, without knowing my name, she’d friend requested me. Was it some kind of location thing? Some code I would never crack when it came to the likes of social media apps. The fucking internet on phones. They share everything, right.
“What?” Big Willie got up from the crate, finally.
“Ed Flores…” I muttered.
“You get another text?”
“Not exactly.” I didn’t keep him in suspense long. “There’s a girl that works up there, with a Jewish dude. She wants to be friends, I think.”
Willie squinted his eyes. “Like on Facebook or something?”
“Fuck does that even mean?”
“Nothing. It means nothing.” I turned towards the door to the corridor. “Or, it means something.”
“Like what?” Willie followed me to the door.
I opened it and a gust of wind hit us with the smell of cordite and iron. We didn’t think anything of it until we got to the other end of the hallway and found Brenda with her left eye blown all over the rough gray wall.
Red paint with bits of white gelatinous crumbles stuck to the left side of the corridor, near the door to the parking garage. That Agassi dude had shot her in the back of the head at close range.
“You think it was a him that did it?” Willie asking a dumb question for once.
“If it wasn’t, he’d be laying here with her.”
We stood about five feet away from Brenda. She was scrunched up in the corner, her head fitting perfectly into the right angle of the doorframe. A little, black hole in the back of her skull. The smell of her bowels was overwhelming. I had to breathe through my mouth. It didn’t seem to bother Willie. But we stood there for a long time staring at Brenda. Maybe it was the least we could do, or maybe we just felt guilty for always being in the wrong places.
That made three. Three dead and nothing but burnt rubber behind us and janky connections in front of us. And two killers. At least. Maybe three.
There was no Mercedes in the parking garage. No bald guy who we thought might be an Agassi either. It was nine-thirty on a Saturday night in L.A. and no one cared about three dead people. Nobody but two humps with no idea how to figure it all out.
“What now?” Big Willie Winsboro asked as the Toyota urged its way out of Pershing Square, onto Fifth.
I had nothing for him but whatevers in my mind. “What’d you think?”
Luckily, he had no time for whatevers. “What they say up there?”
“It’s just a glass-eye, worth two grand at the most.” I told him.
“That’s what they said, huh. Them jewelry people.”
He didn’t believe them. “You think they were fucking with me?”
Willie shrugged his shoulders as I turned the Toyota onto Grand once again. Just doing my part to traverse these circles yet again. “I don’t know why you would kill anyone over it.” The big man pondered. “What was Brenda doing there?” He shifted in his seat. “Who the fuck was she seeing up there?”
A red light at Ninth Street stopped the Toyota. There were groups of people walking around. Not much to get excited about. It was still early, or downtown wasn’t a happening place.
“We gotta talk to this man, Hosseini.” I told Willie.
“Why’d Jackie end up with that thing in her safe?”
“That girl wanna be your friend, maybe she know.”
Shit. I’d forgotten. The bump on the back of my head throbbed like an alarm. Something you set but could never sleep through. I took my phone out of my pocket and swiped and punched numbers. That social media app was still open. I messaged Ed something stupid, like, hey. The light at Ninth turned green. The Toyota lurched through the intersection. It needed gas. Big Willie looked like he need some too. Left on Olympic and a right on Flower. I parked in the lot next to El Cholo. They wouldn’t let Willie in without any shoes, so I ordered to go, and we ate Enchiladas on the tailgate of my truck, in the parking lot.
My phone pinged.
It was a message from Ed that just said, hey.
I typed back, what’s up?
She types back, “nothin, what’s up with you”?
We went through this rigamarole. This modern way of typing your way through needless small talk. Ed either had some information she wanted to depart with, or she was trying to outlast tonight’s boredom. Big Willie was cutting his eyes my way, but he kept silent as I typed back, “what else can you tell me about that stone I brought in”?
“You’re new friend.” Willie finally broke.
I nodded. Message came through saying, “meet at Ham & Eggs in 20”.
“Ham & Eggs.” I stated, putting the phone back in my pocket.
“You still hungry?”
“Something like that.”
Ham & Eggs was a dive back on Ninth and Olive. A slither of a place that only sold beer. A place so cool they even let in a shoeless Willie. We saddled up at the end of the bar. The place wasn’t quite packed, but it held its fair share of scruffy hipsters. Young men and women with designer hats and shoes they stood in line on Fairfax to buy. The bartender was young as well, with her nose ring and braided hair. She sat down two tall cans of some bitter ass beer that Willie and I sipped on and waited for this girl called Ed.
She showed up in forty-five rather than the twenty she’d laid out. Me and Willie were still working on that tall can. Ed didn’t acknowledge us at first, talking to the bartender like they were old friends. Or maybe more, the way that they were smiling at each other. We waited. No one looked twice at us. It was a dive downtown. You’re liable to see anything. They could’ve thought we were there working security. Having a drink before it got busy. Which it was starting to tilt towards. More folks, piling in for cocktail hour at a craft beer bar.
“Shit taste like grass.” Willie put his can down on the bar.
“Sweet and bitter like lawn mulch.” I agreed.
“People drink this shit?”
“I mean, when they got a choice, they’ll take this over anything else.”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what other people wanted. Half the time, I didn’t even know what I wanted. “It’s a sign of the times, I guess. Peoples taste buds are expanding.”
“To fertilizer and manure.” Willie raised his can.
We smashed cans and took big gulps of hopped-up sauce and winced as it went down. The crowd that was crowding in was young. Wearing the already discussed hats and shoes, but some wearing flannels on a seventy-degree night, and some with jewelry they bought out in Joshua Tree.
“To Miracle Grow and cow paddies.”
Ed came over as if on que. Cow shit was right up her alley. The hops had gone to my head. She was smiling at us. She sat on the corner, closer to Willie. She eyed him with a smirk. He gave it right back.
“So, what’s up?” She gave a head nod for the both of us.
Willie waited for me to answer. “What’d you know that Buddy doesn’t or don’t wanna tell?”
Ed’s eyebrows went up. “Straight up.” She smiled. “Getting to it.” She nodded her head. “I like it.”
I really didn’t care what she liked. The notion of being caught forever in the informal had my head reeling with the hops. Too much time seemed to be wasted in the circuitous today, and a ticking in my head had started.
“You like that beer?” Willie asked about the can Ed had in her hand.
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s pretty good. What about yours?”
Big Willie shrugged. “Could use some salt.” He got up from the stool and walked outside, leaving his can on the bar.
Ed looked at me. “What the fuck?”
She could figure it out on her own.
“He going to look for salt?” She asked. “There’s a Whole Foods across the street.”
“It’s the fucking small talk that’s killing us.” I told her. “All the fucking niceties that people use as lube. You ever think about it?”
“Do I ever think about lube?” Ed had that smirk back on her face.
And it was a nice face. A nice young, olive-colored face. She could’ve been from anywhere along the Mediterranean. Her purple tank-top showed the same color on her shoulders. I had to stop myself. This is how it works for men. You get lost in the incongruity of your own vision. Someone becomes an object to obsess over. Jackie, Beebe, this girl.
“What about the stone?”
Her face went blank. I wasn’t playing the game. I was suddenly boring. “What about it?”
Back to baby steps. It was maddening talking to people. We never say the things we’re supposed to. I moved over to Willie’s stool. The expression on Ed’s face turned to somewhat interested. All you had to do is move in life and trouble would find you. Ed leaned in.
“You starting following me for a reason.” I told her.
“I wouldn’t say it was for a reason.” Ed sipped her beer. “It’s more like a reflex, you know. Somebody interesting comes up and you follow them. It’s just a thing you do. Like internet bullshit.” She seemed bored. “Don’t mean nothing.”
People were pushing into the bar, standing all around us. “Bullshit.” Pushing myself. “You got something you need to get out there. Just fucking say it.”
Ed looked at me with only a smile in her eyes. Her mouth was a drastic, straight line. “You were cute, that’s all.”
I was. Not anymore. How fickle the young. Generation Z will do us all in, until a newer generation downloads its wants and needs into society and then us scratchier versions can ignore and look at the sunsets.
“And you’re not as cute as you think you are.” I got up and squirmed through all the vintage Hawiian shirts and didn’t bother to look back at Edwina Flores with her mouth slightly open.
Big Willie was leaning on a bike U, smoking a cigarette. Two, young white kids were standing there with him, smoking as well. They looked like USC students. Lots of lush dirty-blonde hair and tanned shoulders and flip-flops. They were asking Willie questions like they knew him.
“You were drafted in like 2003, right?” One of the boys said.
Willie blew a big plume of smoke in the kid’s face and the kid didn’t even bat an eye. “That’s right.” Big man looked smug and content.
The two kids looked at each other and smiled drunk smiles at each other. Groovy. A local celebrity. “You won the Outland Trophy that year, right?” The other kid asked.
He ashed his cigarette and nodded. “That’s right.”
Cool, cool, cool, the kids told him. As I stepped up, they seemed to lose interest in the relic in front of them, or the cigarettes were getting to their heads. The river of people going into the bar pulled them away.
“Fuck was that all about?” I asked Willie.
“Just some punk ass college kids.”
“Yeah, place is lousy with em.” I looked back at the two dudes entering the bar. “But they knew you.”
“Did they?” Willie flicked the cigarette. It landed in the gutter.
“What the fuck’s an Outland Trophy?”
“Just a piece of hardware.” He nodded toward the bar.
Ed had wormed her way out and put her hands on her hips, as if to say, okay let’s talk. Rejection not sitting well in her stomach. Even if was just a dismissal from a stranger, sometimes that’s the worst kind.
“It’s just a piece of opal, you know that, right.” Ed pointed out as we walked down the sidewalk toward Hill.
“That’s what your boy Buddy said. Two grand at the most. You were standing there when he said it.”
“My boy.” Ed scoffed. “I wonder if he pays me enough.”
“You learning the trade?”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
“What’d you learn about that opal?”
Ed sighed, thinking she could squeeze out some more small talk before getting down to it. I glanced over my shoulder and didn’t see Willie following us, nor was he out in front of the bar.
“Word is, is that opal is some kind of family heirloom. You know, some shit passed down through the generations.” Ed was moving her hands in circles.
“Yeah, I know what a family heirloom is.” I told her.
She shot a look my way, but we were under some of those fig trees and it was dark and I couldn’t see her face for a few seconds. “But you don’t know what family.”
Ed stopped. We’d come out from under those fig trees. Our shoes crunching its leavings on the cement. “How do you know that?”
I didn’t. It was just a guess. But possibly an informed one. I wasn’t all that inadequate. Sometimes. “A friend of mine got her throat cut wide open this morning.” I looked for a twitch in her face, but saw none under those sepia street lamps. “An Agassi was involved. He’s dead now, but maybe you know his girl.”
That got her to blinking and swallowing. There was something about her likeness. I’d seen Beebe before, in passing, but I was good with faces. I waited for Ed. We stood there a long time at Eighth and Hill, the Garfield Building looming over us. Art Deco intimidation. People passed by us and in-between. It felt like she was trying to get her breathing under control, so she could make a break for it. Run, all out.
Finally, she shook her head. “I’m sorry about your friend.”
Her words hovered there in the night air. Lingered in and around other voices and scuffed rubber on cement. Hung there through ambulance sirens and honking horns. No one had said they were sorry, yet.
“Me too.” I managed to say. My throat was closed, a forgotten coal mine. “I wanna find out what’s going on here, Edwina.”
Hearing her whole name made her blink again. Then she realized it was just the filling out of social media forms. “Was your friend named Jackie Meaux?” She asked, moving her feet again.
My turn to blink and watch out for shattered concrete called sidewalks. “You knew her?” I asked.
Ed nodded her head as we stopped at Hill. The light was red but people were crossing the street all the same. We waited like good citizens until the white, walking man flashed our obedience. “Sort of. She was head of security, you know.” She looked at me for acknowledgment. “For the building.”
“For the building?” We kept walking along Eighth, toward Spring Ave.
“Yeah, she came around sometimes. Especially when those robberies were going on.”
“You know a guy named Hossieni?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
A car came bumping down Eighth. A stereo system for the ages. You could feel the bass in your gut. Hear your own teeth rattle. There was nothing else in the world but that tricked-out Honda Civic. Ed and I tried to walk on past it, but it had its own gravity.
“What’d Jackie find out about those robberies?” I tried to raise my voice over the Honda.
Ed was frozen, looking at the car, wincing a bit as it slowed and stopped at the curb where we were standing. The back, passenger-side window lowered. She nodded toward it. I followed her vision.
Big Willie was in the back seat. There was a guy sitting next to him with a gun pointed at his crotch. The guy looked familiar, but it was dark inside the car and I was having trouble seeing through all the bass.
“You don’t think this motherfucker sticks out?” The guy with gun asked. “You roll up on Alvarado Terrace and we ain’t supposed to notice?”
Then I knew. The Salvis in the park. The tattoo on his neck creeped around his Adam’s apple. “Maybe it’s the Japanese cars he keeps finding himself stuffed in. Maybe we should all try buying American.” Cool as a cucumber, I was.
“Fuck American.” Tattoo guy spat. “And fuck you and him if you don’t come correct, ese.”
“Ese?” I looked at Ed but she was gone. Back up Ninth toward the bar, or home. Either way, a good call. “We still talking like that these days?” I leaned over and gazed full on into the Honda.
There were two guys in the front. Same two guys that backed up Tattoo guy in the park. They were smoking blunts. The smoke wafted out onto Ninth street and swirled like dank dragons. A big, black dice hung from the rear-view mirror. They sold the Honda Civics that way. Furry dice included.
“I’m a put a bullet in your man’s dick and then we’ll see who’s talking like what these days.” Tattoo guy jostled the gun around to let me and Willie know he’d use it.
Willie didn’t seem that bothered by the guy or the gun. He looked straight ahead, through the guys in front, like they were about to take him somewhere.
“My man’s dick is his own problem.” Willie finally looked my way, and I nodded, letting him know I didn’t really mean it.
“That’s fucked up.” Tattoo guy shook his head and looked to his two homies.
They shook their heads too. It was about all they could, embalmed as they were. But that was the wrong way to look at them. Violence brimmed underneath those hooded eyes. Best be careful. Stop popping off at the mouth.
“What’d you want?”
“You don’t care about your man’s dick.” Tattoo guy had a questioning look on his face.
“You care about there’s?” I motioned toward the two in front.
They both perked up a bit. Yeah, what about our dicks? The one behind the wheel, shifted his bald head up, to look in the rearview. The one in the passenger seat looked at the bald one for guidance.
“You better believe it, homie.” The tattoo guy nodded. “They get their joints worked on at least three times a week, right?”
The two in front kind of nodded. Both looked like they were trying to remember the last time they’re joints were worked on.
“You’re a good boss.” I told him, unable to help myself.
Tattoo guy snapped his neck to burn a look my way. “You like to fuck with motherfuckers. See homie, I don’t play that shit.” He was waving the gun around, gesticulating with it.
Then he moved. Willie that is. His hand shot out, grabbing and engulfing Tattoo guy’s gun hand. He squeezed. Bones cracked. You could hear them crinkle. Tattoo guy’s eyes went wide, his mouth open with pain. His fingers in Willie’s clinched fist looked like sausages in a metal can. The gun had dropped into Willie’s left hand.
The guy in the passenger seat had his head turned away from me, looking over his shoulder at the action behind him. You move without thinking sometimes. Or, it’s all instinct, all the time. Walking to the corner store is rote. Something you do because you’re in tune with the universe’s wishes.
You act, and there’s only that to prove your existence.
I reached in the through the window, quick as you please. Wrapping my right arm around the kid’s neck and pulled him. The bald dude behind the wheel was focused on his boss in the backseat, and went for his strap. But as he reached for it in his belt, Willie raised his left arm and put the gun on his temple. Big man was still crushing Tattoo guy’s hand, who was moaning in agony now. He was in-between Willie’s arms as if he were being hugged. I pulled the kid in the passenger seat all the way out of the open window, choking him all the while, dropping him to the sidewalk, letting go of his neck and kicking him in the face in one fell swoop.
The toe of my shoe caught him under his left eye and he winced hard and his hands went to his face. He lay there on a pissed covered sidewalk and made no move to get up. Maybe an orbital bone broken and in shock, but he made no noise.
All the noise was coming from the backseat. Tattoo guy was moaning holding his hand. Willie had unclenched and was still pointing the gun at the driver, who had his hands up, halfway turned in his seat.
I put my hands on the passenger window and leaned in, looking at the driver, then to the backseat. “How’d you guys find us?”
“My fucking hand is broken, dog!”
“Shut the fuck up!” Willie barked.
He obeyed the big man. We all felt the force of the man’s voice and would’ve done anything he asked. The man behind the wheel nodded at me and spoke. “We were just cruising, saw…” He nodded at Big Willie. “Just luck, man.”
Dumb luck. But I’m a skeptic at heart. Coincidences are cheap. They were looking for us. Something about that park visit. “How you guys know Ed?” I asked them.
My man in the backseat stopped moaning immediately. He and the driver exchanged furtive glances. They thought me a sorcerer, the way their eyes met and mingled in bewilderment.
“You know Beebe Bonilla as well?” I was on a roll.
Big Willie shifted, but kept the gun on the driver, he seemed a little surprised as well. Tattoo guy was a shrunken man in the corner of the backseat. But he managed to speak.
“Everybody knows her. She’s fucking famous.” He looked at me and then Willie. “Ya’ll don’t know shit, do you?”
Willie’s left hand moved in a blur and Tattoo guy’s head snapped backward and he looked like he might cry. Or his eyes were just watery from taking a shot like that to the nose. Either way, he looked verklempt.
“You might wanna just tell us what we need to know.” Willie told him.
Gangbangers cry too. Tattoo guy sniffled. But it was the driver that spoke up.
“What’d you need to know?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Tattoo guy spat.
Willie moved and inch and the man flinched. “Why’d Ed set us up like that?” I asked the driver.
“She thought we could get the eye from you.” The driver said.
It was our turn to look at each other. Willie and me, a conversion of our thoughts through eye-contact. “Well, you fucked that up didn’t you.” I didn’t wait for anyone to answer. “But why would you want it?”
“Cause the fucking Armenians want it.” Tattoo guy chimed in. “Why you think we stole it in the first place?”
“You stole it?”
“Your homies were the one’s pulling those jewelry robberies.” I stated, to get things clear.
Tattoo guy just nodded.
“Motherfucker.” Willie said.
“To steal something from the Armenians. Why?” I asked.
The two Salvi park-hangers kept quiet. Maybe they didn’t know. Above their pay grade. I looked at Willie. He put the gun in Tattoo guy’s cheek. Still hunched in the window, I snapped my fingers and the driver looked at me. “What’s so important about that glass eye?”
He had a blank look on his face. He shook his head. I turned to see the guy on the street sitting up, still with a hand over his cheek. “It’s a family heirloom worth maybe two grand. Why all the fucking fuss? Somebody’s gotta fucking know?” Showing them my frustration wasn’t the plan, but there it was.
No one said anything. Traffic went by on Eighth. A couple of horns sounded out. Street folks asked for change on the corner of Spring. A young blonde girl walked her French bulldog like it was nice neighborhood she lived in. Everything smelled of piss and dog shit.
“It’s the Agassi’s, man.” The kid on the street holding his cheek mumbled.
We all looked at him with surprise, but I was the only one that could really see him. “No shit.” I told him. “But which Agassi?”
“Does it matter?” The kid on the street said. “It’s a family heirloom.”
Maybe he was the smart one.
“So, you targeted what, how many Armenians work in the jewelry business?” I shook my head. “You make it look like a string of robberies but you’re going after one thing.” The connections were out there snapping in the breeze.
“Got that chick Ed as inside man.” Willie added.
“What was her cut?” I asked anybody.
Nobody in this crew knew. Pay grades and all. A head nod to Willie, and he inched his way out to his right, still holding the gun on those fools.
“Give me your phones.” I told the three.
They all balked at first, but handed them over. The driver still had his gun in his belt but never went for it. The guy in the backseat stared him down. Maybe his boy didn’t have the guts for the game after all. I took their phones and pocketed them for now. Willie and I left the three gangbangers there on the street. We boogied back to Olive and found my truck still there. Me with three cell phones and Willie with a gun.
“That girl set us up.” Willie said when plopped into the truck.
He still held the gun in his hand. It was a nice gun. A Smith & Wesson MP9. Matte black and compact. Semi-auto. Don’t fuck with us now. It had a kind of vibe you could get used to. A feeling of control.
“She did.” I agreed with the big man, cranking up the little Toyota engine. “And I’m pretty sure she’s Beebe’s sister.”
Big Willie had lines of surprise on his face for once. “What?”
I tossed the three phones out on to the street. “Pretty fucking sure.”