College Visit

He told his son he used to shoot sewer rats the size of small cats with his cousin’s .22 pistol from over there.  The son raised his eyebrows, tired.

Now they were standing in front of an abandoned building that used to be a bocce ball club. His dad told him he had his first job there. Six years old, brining lemonade to men dressed in white for penny tips.

Three hours ago, they climbed out of the rental car, a black Lincoln with tan interior, his father telling him to hurry. Outside the car, side stepping through the sidewalk crowds, the son trying to keep pace. “This is where I grew up. This is where you were born.”

The father stopped at the steps of a church and said. “You were baptized here.”  Excitement in the father’s face.

The son shrugged his shoulders.

After another block, the father said, “Holy shit.”

The son flinched. His father was like a damned priest. Never raised his voice. Never cussed. It was why his mother left him. Said how could you be Italian? Where’s your passion? Where’s the anger?

The father disappeared into a store. The son stopped and read the name over the door, Laundry, then reluctantly followed.

Inside, his father hugging a short baldheaded man that was all nose and smelled of whisky.

“Nico, this is my son,” said the father, his tone almost boastful. “I was able to plan my business trip with his college interviews. He’s looking at Harvard, Cornell upstate, and yesterday, we visited Columbia.”

Nico gripped the boy’s arms and said, “You look like the spitting image of your father. It’s remarkable.”

Before the father could speak another word, a man in a wheelchair passed by. The father rushed after him, shouting. The boy stayed behind. His father in an eight hundred dollar suit talking with a man who had no legs, and wore a black beret. Old friends. The two laughing like they were sixteen.

The kid returned his eyes to Nico, now at the register.

“My father told me a lot about this town,” he said.

“Those were good times. It’s changed. These spics, these niggas, they don’t value life the same way we do. They’d rape their own mother if it meant they could get a little money to go by their crack cocaine.”

“My dad told me this story once-“

Nico raised an eyebrow, not sure what was next.

“He said there was this store that ran numbers, and the guy running the place was skimming from the mob, and one day, someone came in and shot the place up.”

Nico pushed his lips together in an exaggerated expression.  He said, “That’s one way to put it.” A smile almost on his face.  “That happened right here. In the back room. We use it for supplies now, but back in the day, it was Vinnie The Dice DaGlino’s office. Vinnie the Dice – he was a bookie who loved to gamble, so he got the name Vinnie The Dice on account he loved to go to Vegas, or Atlantic City. You see, he was taking more than his share off the top. The bosses got mad” –he drew his thumb across his neck and said, “enough is enough.”

The kid smirking a little. The old man didn’t like that. “Did they send in a hitman?”

“That’s what Hollywood would call it,” Nico said.  “Back then we just had problems that needed to be fixed. “

The kid, still smirking.

“That day, they sent your father.”

The kid stopped smirking.

Nico said,  “He was always reliable. You could always count on him to do a job right.”

The kid’s face grew pale.

“Smile kid. About a month later, your dad was in Vietnam. He did three tours, didn’t come back until 72. He married some waitress from Queens – your mother. He moved on, looking for work, and eventually we lost touch.  He had a wife and kid. Times were different. We’d hear through his cousins and his mother how he was doing. But he didn’t come around too much. The bastid got out. Good for him.”

The Body

The body hung from a street lamp in the center of town. The street lamps hadn’t worked in years, but if they had they wouldn’t have lit up much. A dusty stretch of road with a bar, a general store, and a livery. The others were boarded up, abandoned.

Jed studied the body. Missing were its hands, eyes, tongue.

He recognized the boots.

He took his sunglasses off, wiped his brow with the back of his hand and looked over the street. Empty.

The town was small enough to not have a name. Some called it fifty miles southwest of Juarez. Others said it was just south of hell.   Back in his office stateside, it was circled on a wall map with a red pen.  Last seen scribbled beside it.

How am I going to get that down, he thought.

“What do you want, gringo?”

Jed spun on his heels; he hadn’t heard the old man approach.  His hand fell to his Glock on his hip.  The old man moved with a cane, harmless as a grandfather.

“What is it you want?” He spoke English fluent enough that Jed was suspicious.

“I’m trying to get the body down.”

“What body?”

“The body that’s hanging over us. Rotting in the sun.”  An inky puddle of blood soaked into the brown dirt beneath the hanging body.

“Gringo, I am blind. I see no body.”

Jed narrowed his eyes. The man was indeed blind; his eyes were a cloudy blue like arctic ice.

“Tell me policeman-“

“How did you know that?”

“Your cheap aftershave. But tell me – why are you here? People only come here if they are lost or they are looking for something.”

Now eying the old man, Jed said, “What do you know about this?”

“It’s a sign.”

Jed had no time for riddles.

“Gringo, move on.  This is not your home.”

“Who is that hanging up there?”

“I’m just an old-“

“Drop the act hombre. Back in my office, I have a file on you this thick-“ he held up his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. “You’re known as the Hawk. You see everything that goes by in these parts. Look I’m just looking for my partner. Is that him? He has a wife and kid for chrissakes.”

He tried to imagine how Hardy, ramrod straight and by the book, got there. If only he could get the body, he’d know.

Jed heard an engine roaring in the distance, faint, but growing. Judging by the old man’s face, he heard it too and began shuffling off.

“Gringo, I think you are lost.”

A black Toyota pickup with tinted windows hummed up the road and eased to a stop near Jed. The driver side door opened and a man stepped out in fatigues with a holstered pistol. He wore a Chicago Cubs baseball hat to keep the sun off his face.

Jed said, “What d’ya want? I’m looking for a friend.”

The driver didn’t say anything; he poured over Jed with a cold stare. Jed recognized him.

“I just want to be on my way. Do you know who that is?”

After a long pause, the driver said, “He spoke to the Federales.”

Jed nodded.  “Are you going to shoot me?”

The driver liked that and smiled. “I’m not.”

The passenger door squeaked open, a pair of ostrich skinned boots emerged from the truck.

“You done fucked up,” said a familiar voice from behind the door. The door slammed shut and standing there, with a sawed off shotgun leveled at Jed, was his partner, Hardy.  “You like my new boots?”

Hardy shot a jet of spit before he said, “Why you come down here? You should have just left well enough alone.”

“How could you do it?”

“I have a new life down here. I’m not some bureaucrat who can’t do what needs to be done on 60K a year. I’m the boss. What I say goes. Isn’t that right Leonel?”

The driver grinned, and said, “Si jefe.”

“You gonna string me up from a lamp post?”

“Nah. We only string up thieves and snitches.”

Jed sighed.

“DEA goes home in a box. But just the head.”