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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part 12
I'm not sure what I expected to see when Rafael opened that door for his underworld doctor.
A knuckle-dragger with a clubbed foot. A broad-shouldered ex-Nazi with a scar. A down and outer with the shakes and attention span issues. An eye patch. At the very least I expected an eye patch.
Dr. Liliana Molina did not wear an eye patch.
She didn't even wear glasses.
Curly brown hair hung wild around her shoulders, framing her round, olive-toned face. The laugh lines near the corners of her eyes revealed a good nature. A nose that didn't lie straight and the little scar on her chin told another story.
A pastel blouse, white linen slacks, and worn brown sandals completed the picture.
Pilar sat up and opened one eye to check her out, then lay back down.
Dr. Molina set her bag on the futon and greeted Rafael with a gentle embrace and a kiss on each cheek. He muttered a few words of explanation and stepped out of the way.
I was her first stop. Must've been the dried blood all over my face.
“Hello, Matty. Looks like you've had yourself quite a night.”
I heard a lot of Texas in her.
She took a penlight out of her bag and and shone it in my eyes.
“You could say that, Doc.”
“I did say that.”
“Your English is really good.”
“I wouldn't have gotten much out of medical school if it were otherwise.”
“Trained in the States?”
“I look worse than I feel.”
She moved the light from side to side as she stared into my eyes, then switched it off and put it in her pocket. She raised her hand and held it in front of my face.
“How many hands do I have up?”
I had to chuckle.
She poked at the worst of my bruises, watching my eyes while she worked.
“You're okey, muchacho. Anything else I should know about?”
I shrugged. “Took a boot to the ribs.”
I raised my shirt for her.
She eyeballed the stitch work on my torso then glanced up at me.
I glanced back, taking another look at her crooked nose and that scar.
She nodded and gave me half a sad smile. I returned the other half.
“Nothing's broken,” she said, pressing her fingers into the left side of my ribcage.
Her eyes returned to my healing cuts. The doctor in her wanted to ask the question but all she said was, “Somebody did good work on these.” She gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder then went to see to Pilar.
Rafael and I moved to the corner furthest from the futon as she got to work.
“Why don't you boys take a walk?” she said.
“How 'bout we stay right here?”
Her smile rose all the way to her big, hazel eyes.
“Are you saying you don't trust me, Matty?”
Rafael punched me in the arm.
“What is this, Matty? She's here to help your ass out. You're makin' me look bad, kid.”
I ignored him.
“No, Doc. I'm saying I don't know you. Big difference. Considering the week we're having, I'm taking no chances.”
Rafael grunted and paced.
She said something I didn't catch in Spanish to Pilar.
Pilar smiled and looked my way as she replied to Dr. Molina.
The pride of Hoboken put a gangly arm around me.
“I think we can take that walk now, Matty.”
Rafael fired up a joint once we were a few yards from his boat.
“Why the hell is she making house calls to the docks?” I asked him.
He shrugged and took a deep drag off the joint, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs until he exhaled.
“It's a family thing, I hear,” he began. “Hers is on the wrong side of some regional conflict. Wreaks havoc with licensing and all that official jazz.”
I declined a toke.
“I get the feeling she was actually in that conflict.”
“She doesn't like to talk about it but yeah, she's been on the receiving end of some heavy shit. That's part of why she's partial to scuzzbucket vagrants like us. She's been there, even with all that doc schooling in Texas.”
“That's a tough way to make a living.”
He snuffed out the joint between two fingertips and stuck it behind his ear.
“Speaking of which,” I said, “we've got no way to pay her.”
He shrugged it off.
“Don't you worry about that, Matty. Me and Lil have an arrangement. You're covered, man.”
“Thanks, Rafael. For everything.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he replied. “Enough about me and mine, man. I wanna hear about yours. Where did you meet up with her again?”
“Little town a couple of hundred miles in from the city.”
“And? Tell me something about her.”
“She's the most dangerous person I've ever met.”
I felt him squinting at me.
“That's all you got?”
“There's not much more.”
“Don't shit a shitter, Matty. You got your neck out pretty fuckin' far for, 'not much more'.”
“No farther than she does for me.”
We stopped at the end of the dock, looking down the coastline to the squat brick lighthouse high on a crag. Broken clouds swirled blue and black over the water, shading the three-quarter moon.
“Okey, Matty. Have it your way. Keep your little secrets.” He looked at me sideways. “When the hell did you become a gentleman about these things?”
I looked back at him and shrugged.
Tomorrow morning was set to roll in with the tide. I wished it Godspeed.
Rafael wanted to hang on to last night.
“You should probably get back in there, man,” he croaked.
“Where are you going?
“Back to the bar I had to leave to save your ass.” He slipped me a conspiratorial grin. “The Machado sisters are there, man. I was workin' my magic on Rosa. Or was it Marisol? One of 'em, anyway. I was really wearin' her down. So if you don't need anything else from me...?”
“We could stand some grub.”
He nodded and fished the key to his private quarters out of his hip pocket and handed it to me.
“Mi casa es su casa, Matty.”
I was wide awake when the pride of Hoboken staggered into his houseboat, just ahead of the sunrise.
He looked rough, even for him.
His shirt hung open, one remaining button at the bottom still done. The ponytail had given up. Long gray hair went wherever it damned well pleased.
He grabbed the wall opposite the futon and slid to the floor.
“Looks like the Machado sisters did a number on you,” I said.
He rubbed his eyes and had himself a nice, centering coughing fit.
“Matty, we gotta talk.”
My gut churned. Nothing good ever followed those words.
His eyes darted around the room, focusing on everything but me.
“All right, Rafael. Let's talk.”
I glanced at Pilar, her face peaceful in sleep. I wished I could let her stay that way. Dr. Molina told me to wake her up every twenty minutes and keep her up a bit before letting her drift off again.
“I'm thinking you should put the gun down, Matty.”
I didn't recall picking up Quinn's Colt.
“I'm not liking the sound of that.” I placed the gun down next to Pilar and moved to the edge of the futon.
He took a deep breath and dropped his head.
“Matty... shit, there's just no easy way to say it. I ratted you out, man.”
I kicked the words around in my head, waiting for him to smack me on the knee and cackle.
Pilar shifted behind me.
“Rafael...” I began.
He cut me off.
“You think I wanted to do it?” He jumped up and started to pace. “I mean, Matty, for fuck's sake, you didn't tell me your fuckin' father-in-law was Lefty Lubov!”
“Didn't think you needed to know.”
“You didn't think I needed to know? You're on the lam for killing the daughter of a high-ranking Russian gangster, I'm here helping your ass along, and you didn't think I needed to know?”
“I didn't kill her.”
“I don't give a shit!”
I grabbed the Peacemaker and stuffed it into my waistband.
“Tell me why,” I demanded. “Lefty threaten you?”
“I got a sister in Perth Amboy. She has a family, man. Two kids. Get the picture? What would you do?”
I didn't have an answer. Not one I wanted to give him, anyway.
“That's what I thought, Matty.”
“Is he here?” I growled.
“In the city? I don't think so, but I get the feeling he's not far away. A couple of thugs from that company on the card I gave you showed up at the bar askin' questions about that car wreck you told me about. Didn't think anyone saw you? Guess again. They dragged my ass right out of the bar and took me out back. I tried to snow 'em, Matty, I really did. So they hauled me down to the bodega on the corner and got Lefty on the phone.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders.
“Jesus Christ, the guy already knew who I was, read my sister's address to me and told me what would happen if I didn't give you up.”
I shrugged his hands away and turned to Pilar.
“Pilar?” I shook her arm. “We gotta move.”
“Yes, Mateo,” she said as she sat up and swung her legs to the side of the futon. “I heard.”
The glare she turned on Rafael probably stripped ten years off his life.
She pulled on her shoes and came to stand next to me.
“He say anything about her father?”
“Can't say I made any inquiries.”
“They're coming here?” asked Pilar. “Who? How many?”
“I don't know.”
She took a step forward. Rafael threw his hands out in front of him.
“I swear! I don't know. There were two of 'em in the bar but they said they were callin' in reinforcements.” He pointed to Pilar. “Your reputation precedes you.”
“I don't know! Soon! I'm supposed to keep you around 'til they get here.”
Now it was my turn to pace.
I ran through both scenarios-- running and fighting-- and wasn't thrilled with either.
“They know about Quinn,” said Pilar, “which means they know we are injured. And that we have have not been to the hospital.”
What little color remained in Rafael's face went gray.
“Lil...” he moaned. “Oh shit. Lil.”
I smacked him in the back of the head.
I made for the door the second he stammered it out.
“What about my sister?” croaked Rafael.
I stopped and turned back.
“If you're not here... he'll kill 'em, Matty.”
Pilar stepped around me. Her first punch shattered his nose. The second loosened teeth.
I caught him before he hit the deck.
“Sit him up,” said Pilar. “Make sure they see the blood.”
“That gonna be enough?”
“It is the best we can do for him, Mateo.”
She opened the door and took a look around while I arranged the unconscious Rafael against the wall.
The area would be bustling inside the next half hour. Workmen were beginning to stir in and around the ships. Voices sounded, their sources hidden by the early morning fog.
I found Pilar hunched over the side of the dock and gave her a minute to gather herself.
We left Rafael's door wide open and limped the three blocks to the Pinto.
Dr. Molina lived in the best building on a rough block far enough from the docks to make driving a necessity, even if running wasn't already out of the question.
The three-story red brick apartment house was set back from the street and surrounded by a sun-dulled wrought iron fence. The gate was open.
What was once a lawn, parted by a gravel walk, sat brown and dry. The empty, trash-strewn lots on either side made it look palatial by comparison.
Automobile carcasses lined the opposite side of the street. Our Pinto was the best car on the block.
We dug deep and headed straight down the walk, Pilar leaning against me as we approached the front door.
I tried the knob. The door swung open.
Early morning light reflected off white walls and the gray tile floor of the entryway, revealing a pair of cheap wicker chairs and a writing desk against the back wall.
We didn't spend a lot of time admiring the décor on our way to the stairwell.
A single florescent emergency light flickered in Dr. Molina's dark, quiet hallway.
We found her apartment door closed and locked. No noise emanated from within.
Pilar stepped to the side and aimed her gun at the door. She nodded at me.
“Dr. Molina! Hey, Doc!”
I knocked louder and harder.
This time something inside the apartment moved. We both heard the thud.
I backed away, drawing the Colt.
The lock scraped and the door opened wide enough for Dr. Molina to stick her head out.
She greeted us with a sigh and a sour look.
“I told you she needed to rest.”
I lowered my gun and pushed into the apartment. Pilar followed, shutting the door behind her.
Dr. Molina, in a green silk robe over a white tank top and pajama bottoms, was dressed for bed. The sharpness in her stare told me she hadn't been sleeping.
She caught me looking at the tattoos on her chest and shoulder-- a dozen or so tiny black birds in flight-- and pulled the robe closed. They didn't quite hide the scars.
Pilar looked around the room-- a spartan chamber with a black leather couch and matching easy chair, a simple coffee table, and two packed bookshelves-- then ducked into the kitchen. She cleared the bathroom and bedroom too, then came back to the living room.
“Get dressed,” I said. “We have to get you out of here.”
Dr. Molina smiled at me, that same half smile she gave me back at Rafael's, and placed her hand against my cheek.
“Estupido,” she whispered. “You should not have come.”
Pilar took her by the arm and led her into the bedroom. They argued in soft but vehement Spanish as they went.
When they emerged a few minutes later, Dr. Molina was in the same clothes she'd worn to Rafael's. She looked around her home like she wasn't expecting to see it again as she stepped into her sandals.
“You have a plan, Matty?” she asked.
She grabbed her medical bag off the floor.
“We're working on it,” I said.
I opened the door.
A fist the size of Nebraska met me at the threshold.
It crashed into the side of my face and sent me flying backward into Pilar. The hardwood floor broke our fall.
I couldn't make out much than a large, dark-colored blur as my attacker entered the apartment. Two smaller blurs stepped in past him.
Dr. Molina bent to check on me.
“Get away from him, Doc,” said the big guy.
His voice sounded familiar.
One of the smaller blurs moved to the doctor's side. The second came to stand over me.
I looked up in time to see three Pilars scrambling to their feet, aiming their guns at the big man. The pain and disorientation on their faces was hard to miss.
“I wouldn't,” he said. “I know what you're thinkin'. We know what you're capable of. If we all start shooting you might just get all three of us. But not before we perforate the doc and your boy here.”
I fought my way out of my stupor enough to place the voice.
Miro. Miro Korolev. One of Lefty's favorites.
Pilar's gun hit the floor.
“Smart,” said Miro. “Smart move.”
He hadn't changed much since I saw him last in New York. Six and a half feet tall, a good three hundred pounds, crew cut and a dark brown goatee, Yankees jersey and a pair of black sweatpants.
“Now,” he continued, “soon as we scrape our boy off the floor here we're all gonna take a little ride.”
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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.