Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - Part 11
A cabbie with a Groucho Marx mustache gave me the horn and flipped me off, breaking up an otherwise uneventful forty-five minutes of driving through the worst parts of the old city. Wasn't sure why until I reached the end of the block and saw the, 'One Way', sign on the corner.
I kept it under thirty-five the whole way. Any faster and the Pinto bucked like a rodeo bull.
Dodging parked cars-- mostly obsolete American makes enduring a second life south of the border-- was easier than dodging drunks but I managed it as I crept through the streets.
The stained and broken city light deepened the bruises on Pilar's face, hiding the cut in shadow.
I couldn't let her go under so I reached over every couple of blocks and gave her a shake.
“Mateo,” she slurred, “if you do not let me sleep I am going to rip your arms off.”
“You sleep when the doctor says you can. You know the deal with concussions.”
“Yes. I know.”
The drunk count thinned the closer we got to the docks. The workmen and merchant marines wouldn't be staggering out of their favorite dives for another few hours.
The wind streaming through the Pinto's open windows carried a pungent tang on it-- a briny olfactory medley of dead fish, garbage, and old rot-- characteristic of a working port.
I ditched the Pinto three blocks away from the marina.
“You are sure this man will help us?” asked Pilar as I helped her out of the car.
We turned off the street and into a short alley between warehouses. The weight of Quinn's hand cannon was very comforting in the darkness.
“I'm not sure of anything, Pilar. But we need a doctor and I don't think surfacing at the public hospital's such a great idea.”
She leaned in a little closer. Moving seemed to have been good for her. Her leg wasn't dragging like it was just after the crash.
“I knew a guy,” I continued. “Rafael DuPree. Lives in a houseboat and always leaves the door unlocked in case a friend needs a place to bunk for a night.”
“Kinda. The front room is open to anyone. His own living area is behind a locked door and I know he keeps a dog in there too.”
“And you trust him?”
“As much as I trust anyone in this country. Present company excepted. Don't have much choice, do we? He's the guy who knows the doc I was telling you about.”
“The underground woman doctor.”
Hulking cargo ships sat dark and creaking in the water dockside. Faint music from one of the rough bars nearby danced on the breeze. The scent of sweet pipe tobacco moved by us. I didn't look too hard for the smoker, relying on the deterrent effect of the Peacemaker in my hand.
There were three houseboats at the end of the dock; two nice-looking ones and the thing Rafael lived in.
Flaking paint left pale, stained wood exposed everywhere above the waterline. The two windows, one on either side of the door, afforded no view of the interior.
“Wait here,” I said.
I rapped on the door with the gun and then opened it and stepped inside.
Pilar stepped in right behind me, shutting the door behind her.
I locked it.
Dirty light bled into the cabin, showing me the way to an upended milk crate with a lava lamp on it. Yeah. A lava lamp. Rafael DuPree, the pride of Hoboken, New Jersey, had himself a good time at Woodstock.
An orange glow filled the corner of the room by the crate.
I helped Pilar to the ancient futon I'd spent many a night on during my city days, then knocked on the door that led to Rafael's private domain.
The dog answered with a growl.
I gave it another knock, hoping to wake the light-sleeping Rafael, if he was in there.
The pooch had more to say but that was all I got.
“No one's home,” I muttered. “Gotta go find him.”
I sat down next to Pilar and shook her.
“No sleeping. Not yet. Please.”
I hauled her up and walked her around the cabin for a couple of minutes.
“Where are you going to look for your friend?” she asked.
“He's not my friend, just a guy I know and sort of trust. He's a boozer so I'm gonna start with the closest bars. If he's not there I'll run into someone who knows him. We need that doctor.”
Someone pounded on the front door.
The pounding continued, followed by a short burst of rough Spanish. I made out three voices, all talking at once.
Pilar drew her gun.
We locked eyes, hers urging action, mine playing for time.
I won the staring contest. She moved to the back wall. I cocked Quinn's gun and went to the door.
“Mateo!” barked Pilar. She motioned for me to stand to the side of the door.
I moved to the left and raised the gun.
“Quien es?” I called out.
The pounding got louder.
“Salga! Salga ahorita!”
“Fuck you! I'm not coming out!”
They responded with more pounding and a lot of shouting.
“Quien es?” I repeated.
“Quien soy yo? Quien eres?”
“Yo soy un amigo de Rafael!”
“I'm not lying! I'm a friend of Rafael's!”
“Gringo pendejo! Salga o entramos!” They gave the door a healthy shove for emphasis.
I turned to Pilar.
“He said come out or--”
“I know what he said!” I leaned back toward the door. “Okey! I'm coming out!”
I slipped the gun into my waistband, at the small of my back.
“Mateo, what are you doing?”
“That door's not gonna hold for long. You're on one leg and I'd bet my ass you can't see straight right now.”
“I do not have to see straight. There is only one way in and I have it covered.”
“Ultimo aviso!” The whole houseboat rocked as those outside made their presence felt.
“Look, they're gonna get in.”
I shook my head.
“I don't wanna have to explain a pile of bodies on the dock! Do you?”
She braced herself up against the wall and stared at me. I wondered how many of me she saw.
I didn't wait for an answer.
“All right! All right! I'm coming out!”
I glanced back at Pilar.
“Lock it behind me.”
I opened the door and stepped outside, shutting it with my back.
Seven guys ringed me in, six of which resembled fire hydrants with crew cuts and mustaches in wifebeaters.
The seventh towered over the others, a full head and a half over. He didn't bother with a shirt. He'd have needed a sail to contain his barrel chest and shoulders. Unlike his pals, he went for the clean-shaven look and sported a full head of hair.
I acknowledged him with a nod.
He stared right through me.
One of the fire hydrants, a guy with a lot of gold teeth, put his pudgy hand on my chest and pushed.
I pushed back.
The gang bristled.
“Quien es?” asked Gold Tooth Guy.
“I told you, man. Un amigo de Rafael. Where's he at?”
“Donde esta la gaina?”
I gave him a blank stare, a genuine one.
He crossed his arms in front of him.
I took a couple of steps to my left. They moved with me.
“Not gonna happen,” I growled.
He shoved me back against the houseboat. His friends tightened the ring.
I looked from face to face, getting the same read off each one.
“Shit”, I grumbled.
Gold Tooth and a couple of his amigos chuckled and balled their fists.
So much for parley.
Three of them pushed me, in three different directions.
Gold Tooth started in again with the questions.
“Quien es? Donde esta la gaina?”
The man on his right feinted a right hook at my head and pulled up, laughing.
The big guy with the hair stood a foot behind his pals, watching with disinterest, both hands hitched in his belt.
I sidestepped the next shove, moved forward, and slugged him.
It was a good punch.
I got the shoulder down, shifted my weight, and swung through the target. And if he'd been eight inches shorter he'd have landed on his ass.
My knockout blow caught him flush in the throat and when his hands went up I buried both fists in his gut, one high, one low.
He dry-heaved and dropped to his knees.
A hard right to the temple finished the job.
His six friends stood there with dumb looks on their mugs.
It was a little trick I picked up during a childhood of getting my ass kicked in Riverside Park. When you're outnumbered and can't get away, do the one thing they'd never expect-- pick the biggest guy there and take him down, hard as you can. Nine times out of ten it works out for you. That tenth time though, man, do you take a beating.
I thought about pulling the Peacemaker too late.
Fists and feet thudded into me, knocking me back toward the houseboat. The only thing I had going for me was them getting in each other's way trying to get their shots in.
I hit back, hard and fast, with no idea what I was swinging at. My fists hit the mark more often than not.
So did theirs.
A nasty shot to the ribs followed by a clubbing blow to the side of my head almost put me down. I grabbed a hold of the closest guy to me and caught a head butt for my trouble.
A gunshot brought everyone up short.
I slumped back against the houseboat and preserved my dignity by not falling down.
All six guys stared at the open door where Pilar-- back-lit by the orange glow of Rafael's lava lamp-- stood, gun in hand.
I don't know that she ever looked more beautiful.
“Es suficiente, no?” she asked as she took aim at Gold Tooth.
Nobody else said a word.
I leaned back, fighting off the pain as the adrenaline receded and my heartbeat slowed to normal. I felt better after the car crash.
A familiar voice tore through the post-violence quiet.
“What the fuck are you clowns doing in front of my house?”
Rafael DuPree, walking with the jerky gait peculiar to tall, thin men, double-timed it down the dock.
“Hector? Domingo? Somebody better start talkin'.”
The pride of Hoboken looked sporty in a light blue short-sleeved shirt, unbuttoned to the navel, and a pair of white shorts. A pair of Birkenstock sandals I felt sure was older than me completed the ensemble.
Three guys started to explain.
Rafael put a hand out to shut them up.
“Come on, guys, you're bustin' my balls over here. You know I can't have this shit where I live.”
He doffed the fishing hat and ran one gnarled hand through his straight gray hair.
“Who the hell? Matty! That you?”
“It's me, amigo,” I replied. I'd have waved but it hurt too much to raise my arm.
“Jesus,” he said. “You look like crap.”
“Thanks. Good to see you too.”
Pilar lowered the gun as Rafael took Hector-- the local formerly known as Gold Tooth-- aside and loosed a torrent of glorious Spanglish, the gist of which was, “This is my friend, thanks for looking out for me, now go away.”
The boys scraped their large friend off the dock and carried him off into the night.
I let Rafael guide me into the houseboat.
Once inside he used the latest in his endless supply of pre-paid phones to summon Dr. Molina.
He disappeared to make coffee while Pilar and I got settled in the parlor. He was also good for a couple of ice bags for my hands and head.
Between the two of us we flattened out the futon and got Pilar to lie down. I pulled her shoes off and propped her leg up on my thigh.
Rafael sat down next to me on the edge of the futon and looked me over.
“Never took you for a Freddy Fender man, Matty. Freddie Hubbard, maybe. But Freddy Fender?”
I shrugged and sipped some coffee.
“You know how it is, DuPree. You spend enough time down here the culture kinda absorbs you. Besides, there's nothing wrong with Freddy Fender.”
He nodded and patted my shoulder.
He'd been in country for over twenty years, the last seven in the houseboat by the dock.
The man never told me why he left the States and I knew better than to ask. Whatever it was it made him feel a kinship with people in trouble. We gravitated to him like moths to a light bulb, and unless you were a complete scumbag he did what he could to help.
“Okey,” he said, “let's hear it.”
He already knew the front half of my story so I started in the middle and took him up to the fight outside his houseboat, minus the part about the Federales.
“So what's your next move, Matty?”
“We need the doc first. After that?”
“We find my father,” said Pilar.
Rafael finished his coffee and paced around the room.
“Okey, Matty. First off, I'm sorry Hector's boys got rough with you, but they've got their balls in a bunch and it's partially your fault.”
“My fault? I don't recognize any of those guys. Not one.”
“They weren't around when you were, Matty. Not all of 'em, anyway.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “There's been people, Matty, people around here, askin' about you.”
Pilar sat up.
“People? That means more than one.”
“Three so far. One a few months back, big guy. Texan. Big hat. Then again about a month after that. I'm pretty sure that one was law enforcement. The third man was here only yesterday, local, but he's flacking for someone stateside.” He grimaced in my general direction. “You didn't do such a hot job of staying off the grid, pal.”
“Rafael,” I began, “what did you tell 'em?”
“What could I tell 'em? I had no idea where you went.”
He fished a sweat-stained business card out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me.
I showed it to Pilar.
BLAYLOCK & QUINN.
That was it, aside from a phone number.
“The guy today, he was from Blaylock & Quinn too?”
“That's what he said. Claimed to have reason to believe you'd show up in the city so he was hittin' up your old haunts, putting the word out. And here you are, right on cue.”
A firm knock on the door broke the uncomfortable silence.
Rafael snapped out of it and grinned. He walked to the door.
“It appears the doctor is in.”
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.