Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part 13
Miro trundled us out of Dr. Molina's building and into a black Lincoln Towncar bigger than some New York apartments.
He put the two women in the front, next to him, and tossed me in the back. Natch.
His two henchmen, local boys in white guayaberas and gray slacks, got in on either side of me. The one on my left sported a bushy mustache. The other went for a clean shave and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. They agreed on guns, though. Each man had a Ruger 9mm trained on my midsection.
Miro reached across the front seat to rummage around in the glove box, then tossed an instant ice pack at me.
“For your head, Josh.”
Interesting guy, Miro. I used to see a lot of him at my Manhattan restaurant. The man had an insatiable appetite for steak au poivre. He had a heavy rep in certain circles as someone who'd worked his way up on the strength of his guts and his two fists. By the time I left New York he'd achieved a high position at Lefty's side. If Miro Korolev came after you personally you really fucked up. I'd seen him in action before, clearing a mob away from the back of the restaurant one night. I'd seen him snap a guy's arm like a stick without a second thought. I'd also seen him stop traffic on 8th Avenue to help a wounded dog out of the street.
I found Pilar's seething eyes in the rear view mirror, saw her concussed confusion mixed with battle rage, straining for release. I sent her the kind of silent reassurance only a man with two guns pointed at his gut can send.
Dr. Molina took her hand and squeezed it.
Miro chuckled and started the car.
“Hey Miro,” I piped up, “be a pal and try and not hit any big bumps?”
He turned his big head to face me.
“Don't you worry 'bout that, Josh. These boys are sure-handed as they come. Aren't you, boys?”
“Si, senor,” said Mustache.
Shades just nodded.
Miro laughed and pulled away from the curb.
I let my breath out and leaned back in the seat. Something very like relief ran through my body. My sore muscles relaxed and even though my head still pounded from accumulated beatings I felt more at peace than I had in months. Maybe years.
I watched the waking city as we passed through it. Morning means different things to those rising to meet the day than it does to jerks like me who haven't been to sleep yet.
Shopkeepers unlocked their stores, loading in product from cargo vans or sweeping the sidewalks, as their parents had before them.
The night people were there too, crashed out at bus stops or staggering home for a little siesta before the next bender.
We went through the heart of downtown and made for the outskirts of the city.
The Hotel San Miguel occupied thirteen acres of prime real estate off the main road, three miles outside the city.
Hotel San Miguel; Harboring Gringos Since 1955.
The main building was a four story monstrosity fashioned to look like what the owners think the average American tourist thinks a south of the border hotel should look like. Faux adobe exteriors. Bubbling, ornate fountains. Donkey statues. An explosion of fresh flowers in any season.
It sat near the back of the lot, flanked by a white clapboard laundry house, and a red brick maintenance bunker.
I'd been out to the Miguel a handful of times, as a guest of European tourists I met on the beach in the days before I had to head inland.
The place boasted a very good bar and two restaurants-- one snooty, one fast.
“Can you get steak au poivre here, Miro?” I chirped as the Towncar rumbled down the long gravel lane that ended in the parking lot.
The big man grinned.
“Not as good as yours.”
I glanced at Mustache and Shades.
“Seared steak with peppercorns pressed into it, with brown gravy, finished with brandy and a little cream.”
They looked at one another but said nothing.
“You're in a pretty good mood,” said Miro. “All things considered.”
“What can I tell you? I'm done running. I'm tired. Fucking tired.” I glanced at Pilar. “One way or the other, this ends today.”
He nodded his massive head. “You got that right.”
I sought Pilar in the mirror again. She looked back at me with questions in her eyes. I wished I had answers.
Miro drove right up to the front, threw it into park, and got out with the engine still running. He went around to get the door for the women.
Shades and Mustache pocketed their iron and hustled me out of the car.
A smiling valet in a ridiculous, billowy red shirt and a sombrero so big he had to take it off to get behind the wheel, hopped in and moved the Towncar to the parking area.
A second valet, sombrero on head, opened the front door for us.
We stepped into the lobby and got clobbered by a gust of mariachi music coming from a pair of speakers placed close by the door.
The inside of the hotel was all columns and arches, done up in more faux adobe. Ceiling fans worked hard to keep the air moving around the wicker chairs and wooden benches strewn around the big room.
Employees in getups as garish as the valets' scurried around hauling luggage, toting trays, and cleaning things.
Pilar stumbled as we headed for the long hallway that led to the first floor suites.
I lunged to support her.
Mustache lunged with me, trying to get between us.
I got there first and put my arm around her shoulders, taking some of her weight.
He reached to grab me. I stiff-armed him and we had a little staredown.
Dr. Molina hurried to Pilar's side. She took her hand and pointed to the nearest bench.
Miro stopped and turned around.
“There a problem?” he barked.
“She needs to rest,” said the doctor.
We started moving toward the bench.
“I don't think so, Doc.
“This woman is under my care,” she said. “She needs attention. Now. I'm going to see to my patient. Want to stop me? Shoot me.”
The manager on duty-- a middle-aged woman of high enough rank to rate a simple tan pantsuit instead of a corny costume-- came out from behind the desk.
“Dr. Molina,” she said. “Hay una problema?”
The doctor threw a hard look Miro's way, then answered the manager.
“No problema, Frida.”
A short conversation followed. It ended with Dr. Molina asking for ice and clean towels and Frida sending one of her staff to get them.
I knelt in front of Pilar, holding her hand.
My bravado was gone. The insanity of the past week and the enormity of what was to come landed on me all at once. Fear and anger. Uncertainty. Pain and fatigue. Guilt. Longing.
“Pilar,” I said.
“Mateo. Not now. We will talk when we see each other next.” She placed her hand on my shoulder and pulled me closer so she could speak into my ear. “If you do not come out, I am coming in.”
She kissed me on the cheek and let go of my hand.
Miro sighed behind me.
I looked at her for another few seconds, then turned and stood.
He pointed at Mustache.
“You stay with them,” he said.
Shades moved behind me and gave me a shove.
A painting of a cemetery hung on the wall to the left of the arch leading to the hallway, depicting a row of crypts and some moss-covered steps.
I wanted to laugh, but didn't. I tried not to think too much about it as Miro led me down the corridor.
A pair of hard cases stood guard in front of Lefty's door-- one of his and one local.
I recognized the young Russian with the Elvis hair and sideburns. He pulled it off, though, looking sharp in a lightweight, off-white suit. He leaned against the door jamb, smoking a filterless cigarette.
His partner-- a lanky guy with a mane of dark hair-- looked just as dapper in a pressed white shirt and black slacks.
Miro reached between them and knocked on the door. He waited through a count of three and then let me into the room.
After seeing the effort put into the tourist trap back in the lobby, I expected more from a suite at the Hotel San Miguel.
From the taupe carpet to the Ikea catalog furniture the room was astonishingly ordinary. Generic framed prints adorned ecru walls.
A fruit basket sat in the middle of the an antique table in the dining area.
The bar looked good too.
Lefty Lubov stepped into the living room as the door shut behind me.
The last two years had not been kind to him. Dark circles rimmed his eyes. Yachts could float in the crevices lining his cheeks. Thick, straight hair that used to be brown was now light gray.
The white guayabera and brown slacks he wore-- no one could accuse Lefty of not getting with the spirit of the place-- were a size too big.
“Hello, Joshua,” he said.
His voice was as powerful as ever, deep and resonant.
I stayed by the door. I had no illusions of getting back through it alive if Lefty wished otherwise but being close to the way out allowed me the illusion of security.
We eyeballed each other for a while.
For the first few seconds he seemed happy to see me. From the first time Roksana brought me home he and I had gotten along. He liked me even more for not blanching when they sat me down and told me who and what he was.
His anger came next, muted and tinged with uncertainty, but still simmering in his gut. That familiar scowl said it all.
“You have something to say to me, Joshua?”
“It's your party. I was happy drinking mucus at a great little spot right on the water this time last week.”
He sighed and shook his head.
“Sarcasm is unbecoming.”
“What can I tell you, Lefty? I've been on the run. I've been beaten, kicked, stabbed, shot at, and was in a car crash. Sarcasm's all I have left.”
“Do you expect me to feel sympathy for you? You murdered my daughter.”
I took a step forward, pitting my stare against his.
“No. I didn't.”
He let my assertion hang in the air for a minute, then nodded.
“Come in, Joshua.” He gestured toward the sofa.
“Why? So one of your boys can come out of the bedroom and put a bullet in my head?”
He went and opened the bedroom door.
“We are quite alone here. Besides, if anyone's going to do you harm, I assure you, it will be me.”
“Well... when you put it like that...”
I stayed right where I was.
“Convince me. Convince me that you did not do this thing.”
“I need something from you first.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Pilar,” I said. “Pilar and her father. They skate free, no matter what happens between us.”
“His fate is out of my hands. I'm afraid the Federales have scores to settle with him.”
“Swear all you like. It doesn't change the facts. Tell me the truth, Joshua. Do that and we'll talk about the girl.”
He hit me with the full Lefty Lopez glare. I'd gotten as much leeway as I was going to get.
It's a strange feeling, knowing the next words out of your mouth could be your last. I said them anyway.
“I did not kill Roksana.”
“It was your gun.”
“It was her gun too. We bought it together, after our place got broken into.”
“She never told me about a burglary.”
“Didn't want you involved. Wasn't worth killing over.”
“She was leaving you.”
“We were getting divorced. Mutual decision, Lefty. And it wasn't ugly either, not one of those screaming, yelling, I hate you kind of splits. We were better friends at that point than we'd been for years. We just couldn't be married to each other.”
“You were there that day.”
“After. I got home after. Cops were already there. In fact, I'm pretty sure the cops were there before.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean exactly what I said. I saw cops hanging around outside out building when I got there. They ran up the steps ahead of me, just as two Russians walked out. You know all this, man. I'm sure you've read the police report.”
“I want to hear it from you.”
“You believe me, don't you? It's why I'm still alive.”
“That can change at any moment.”
He began to pace.
“I have searched for these Russians of yours, Joshua. Asked many questions of many people. I have not found them.”
“Look harder. They were there.”
“Why would any Russian in the city do this thing?”
“I can't answer that, Lefty. Like I said, Roxy and I'd grown apart by then. She had her outside interests, I had mine. I don't know what she was into. I figured you'd know.”
He thought about it.
“That's all there is,” I said. “I ran because I had to. My lawyer told me how bad it looked. And you didn't think I was gonna stick around to explain it to you, did you?”
“It would have saved a great deal of trouble if you had.”
“Would you have believed me?”
He went to the bar and poured himself a glass of whiskey.
“Call off the Federales,” I said. “Don Gerardo has done nothing to you. And I'd really like 'em off our backs.”
“Your Federales problem is your own affair, Joshua. I did not sic them on you. Or on Don Gerardo. I will admit to asking Mr. Blaylock to find out what he could about the man who was protecting you. I never received that report.”
“You're not going to either.”
“It appears that Mr. Blaylock made two calls once he located you. One to me and one to the authorities in New York. My understanding is that the Federales were supposed to apprehend and hold you until you could be transported back to the United States. They went after Don Gerardo of their own accord.”
He sipped his drink.
I asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
“So what now?”
He refilled his glass.
“I haven't decided yet, Joshua.”
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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.