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Short Stories
Spider-Fly, continued The table had been set for two people facing each other. As Charlie pulled out his chair Mandy moved the other setting to his immediate right, and then sat down there. "So you didn't invite someone," she said. A statement, not a question. "Nope." "A girlfriend, a mother, father?" "That's the problem. I don't have any of those." Mandy's face registered surprise. "Well, not here, I mean." He was sounding stupid, and he didn't like it. He held up a hand, a 'wait a minute' gesture, took a deep breath. "I don't have a girlfriend, my mother's somewhere in LA, I don't know where, and my father ..." He looked at her for a moment, a frown across his brow; "Dead," he finally added. Close enough to honest. Charlie Joyce might as well be dead as far as he was concerned, and Henry ... too long a story. "I'm sorry. Your look says it was recent." "Yes. Less than a year ago." He was thinking of Henry. "So," she said, after a quiet moment. "How about Mandalit for a dinner date? She just happens to have inside information on what's top of the line in the kitchen tonight." Charlie grinned at her. "Best offer I've had all evening." A young man in a perfectly pressed white shirt but no tie, black pants and polished black shoes brought them a basket of corn chips and a small dish with three different salsa ramekins. As he set them on the table Mandy said something in Spanish that was evidently an introduction. It was a very Mexican face, round, dark, a wide mouth, and it lit up immediately with a broad smile. "Eduardo, si. I am pleased..." He looked quickly at Mandy; "cómo se dice en conocerte?" "To meet." "Si. To meet you. I am pleased to meet you." Charlie rose and offered his hand. "I'm Charlie, Eduardo, and I'm pleased to meet you." Eduardo took his hand briefly and made a very small duck of the head. "Gracias." And was gone. "That's a first," Charlie said, looking after the retreating Eduardo. "I've never been introduced to a waiter in a restaurant before." "Well, you're a hero in this one. Saving Juvie from the INS is a very big deal around here." "Juvie? The letter says Juvenal. Juvie's short for Juvenal? And why not Hoo-vie?" "You gringos," Mandy said, laughing lightly. "It's Hoo-venal in Mexico, Juu-venal in America. It looks like this is my night for language lessons." 'Perky' was definitely wrong, not even close. 'Vivacious'? Not right either, even though he wasn't certain about the word. Something else. Maybe it would come to him. "Hoo-ven-al," he said. "We had a kid in grade school named Jorge. Starts with a 'jay' but sounds like a 'hor'. We used to call him Hey Whore. Big joke for ten year olds. Broke us up every time. But you called him Juvie? With a 'jay'?" "American for Juvenal." "American for juvenile delinquent." "But he doesn't know that yet," she said. "And by the time his English is good enough, it won't make any difference to him." There was something unsaid there and the conversational space between them went blank. "Is he here now?" Charlie asked to switch tracks. "In the kitchen, running the dish washer. And with this crowd," she gestured to the room, "that's heavy lifting. He'll be out to say 'hi' once he gets ahead." Eduardo had put two plates stacked together on the table, and Mandy dealt them out to Charlie and herself. "Meanwhile, Charlie Kenway, I'm starving and that's bad for a first date. And how about something to drink?" She put a small handful of the corn chips on each of their plates and then dipped one into a salsa. "A soda would be good. I'm not much for alcohol. I have to maintain my cool." As Charlie spooned a corn chip into a salsa she signaled to someone behind him and a waiter appeared at their table. His arrival prompted another introduction, this time in only slightly accented English. Mandy ordered a soft drink for each of them and then asked, "How about an appetizer? My father makes a terrific shrimp plate dressed in a cold onion and light oil sauce with secret herbs." "Shrimp," Charlie said. "What's the Spanish word? Camiones. I love camiones." It broke the waiter up and put the most mischievous grin on Mandy's face. Suddenly all business, the waiter said, "Un plato de camiones subiendo," and left them. "OK. I guess I stuck my foot in my mouth." "In spades. We're going to get a plate full of trucks." "Oh, for crying out loud. So much for cool." "Shrimp is camerones," she said with a big sharing smile. ~~~ Juvenal had been the natural first topic of their dinner conversation. Everyone working at Cantina Amarillo knew about the scene in the alleyway, and they understood and very much appreciated that Charlie had saved him. But Mandy wanted Charlie to know he had done much more than simply keeping him in the country. "My grandfather, Ermano Abrano, came to the US about fifty years ago. He worked, he saved, and five years later he was able to start this restaurant." She saw Charlie look around him, a quizzical expression on his face. "Well," she continued, "it wasn't always this big. Cantina Amarillo was a hole in the wall in the beginning. But more working, more saving and eventually he was able to buy the place on the right and then the place on the left. And voilà." She gestured to the room. "Impressive," Charlie said. She saw that he actually looked impressed. "That's a role model story if I ever heard one. Especially if you want to guarantee your location." "My grandfather likes continuity," Mandy answered, nodding. "That's why Diego runs the kitchen, and Enrique the restaurant. They're his sons and Diego is my father." He was smiling and she was quite taken by it. Earlier when she had come up to him at the entrance and introduced herself he seemed to have gone flat for a moment, his face expressionless, something neutral about him, protective perhaps and far away. The edges of his face, at the cheek bones and along the jaw line, seemed to become defined and hard. The word that had come to her mind was 'enduring', an enduring look, as if he would go on no matter what. And then he had snapped back with this very nice, very engaging smile. She liked his smile. There was something special about it, encouraging. Manufactured or real? She would find out. Yes, she would find out about Charlie Kenway. She had suddenly decided she wanted him for her own ... for a while at least. "And you?" Charlie was saying. "Are you a customer, a visiting relative, cook, waitress, what?" Mandy waited a long moment before answering. She was looking at him directly, at his eyes, interesting reflecting pools watching her carefully, almost as if he were testing her and looking for reactions. "I'm the business manager. I run the place, write the checks, make the decisions. Just the business decisions, of course. My father rules the kitchen, Enrique the restaurant." "Yes, I probably would have figured that out. About you being the manager, I mean, not the chef. You sort of have management written all over you." An emotion in her was reaching out. She knew the feeling; a need to know, to know the secrets, all the little levers. In this case it was based on an attraction. She had felt it often enough. Lust at first sight. It reminded her of Sandy, and that reminded her of Sandy getting her to Moe Bishop. It had made Sandy particular, a person with something special, and for Mandy, particular had the subconscious effect of seductive musk. And so the affair. There was a particularity about Charlie Kenway as well, but she hadn't put her finger on it, something in his history, something enigmatic that he wasn't talking about ... yet. "I probably would have known you knew," she said. His hands were folded in front of him on the table and she placed one of hers over them. She saw a slight flush appear on his cheeks. He's an innocent. Good. I can probably fix that. "Let me order something for us." She looked around her and called over one of the waiters. "Hernando, Papá está haciendo un pambazo. Dile que estamos listos, por favor." He made the slightest bow; "Sí, se lo diré," and was gone. "My father made a special dish in your honor this evening. It's called pambazo. He makes a pan bolillo - that's a kind of bread - dips it in guajillo pepper sauce and then fills it with vegetables, bean, onions, cheese, all sorts of things. It's delicious." "A dinner in my honor," Charlie said. "All I expected was a parade or a medal or something, not a special dinner." "Yes. Well, let me tell you, in this house you're a hero. You didn't just save Juvenal's skinny tail from the INS, you'll put food in the mouths of a number of Papa's Mexican family. Well, extended family." "I will?" "You will." He had the nicest look of pleased innocence about him. She thought he was perhaps twenty one, maybe twenty two, at least ten or eleven years younger than herself, but the wide eyes, raised eyebrows, the honest question in the voice, dropped him back to his teens for just a moment. "My grandfather and grandmother, Asuncion, came here from a very poor Mexico when it was easy to emigrate. And they've been bringing family here, giving them a place to work so they can send money back. It's gotten more difficult over the years, but they still come. They stay with us for a while, they learn." She paused. "We fix it so they can go on." Mandy watched him digest that, store it away. She didn't think he would ask any questions about 'fixing it'. Not yet anyway. But at some point perhaps, it might be the starting point for trading; stories, information, secrets. And who knows, thinking of Amarando, maybe he could help with fixing that problem. "And Juvie?" he asked. "Three sisters. He's the oldest. Plus a mother, a father and a grandmother. He won't be paying taxes for a while, so he can send back enough to make a big difference for all of them." "That's what you meant about putting food in other mouths," he said. "Yes. On the truck that brought them up from the border there was a guy who took the cross Juvie's grandmother had given him for good luck. In Mexico, that's the definition of private property; 'What's yours is yours; but if I take it from you, it's mine'. So he sold it back to him for everything he had in his pockets." "Jesus. Poor guy." "He had the address but no clue where we were, and no money to call. Imagine being dropped in the middle of a big city in a foreign country. No language, no money. What do you do next?" "Get lucky?" "Or find a hero." She could see a look of concern cloud his face. "I'm not comfortable with that," he said. Nodding and leaning in, a softness on her face, and something conspiratorial, she said, "I can see that." And then; "tell me about you." ~~~ The car was sitting in the alleyway at the back door to Paulo's. They had been quiet through most of the ride from the restaurant. It was easy to like Mandy. She was a very attractive woman, probably thirty or so, he was sure. Hair a deep black, beautiful eyes plus an inviting full figure. Beyond that he liked her immediate interest in what was going on around her. She absorbed her environment without searching it; the restaurant, the waitstaff, the customers, him. She was direct, not tentative and very clearly interested in him. He liked that, a lot. Charlie needed to have someone interested in him outside of himself. The evening sky was a salubrious canopy shading the light of a near full moon, high enough above the alleyway to provide soft shadows in the car. She was leaning into him emotionally, he could feel it. She probably knew he was leaning into her as well. All he had to do was stretch across the small space between them, touch her cheek with his hand and kiss her. But a concern had shaped itself gradually on the ride back from the restaurant. Several years ago Henry had told him something his newly teenage self apparently had paid attention to; "make decisions, Charlie, but wait a while before you act on them. Decisions are one thing, action is another," he had said. "They're really not decisions to anyone else until you act. Just remember, actions are hard to take back." A little thought before acting probably went a long way to minimizing regret, Henry had said. Had he thought enough about getting even with Soltar? Here he was in Amarillo. Did he have regrets? No. The decision was to leave Albuquerque, and he had to leave because of revenge for what Soltar did to his mother, to both of them. No regrets, no guilt, not over burning out Soltar. "What are you thinking Charlie?" Mandy asked. He looked up at her slowly. He had been frowning at the windshield, at something beyond it in an unseen distance. He wasn't certain about it but he said, "about you. I was thinking about kissing you. Maybe that's out of line, but I think you would like me to and I would like to." And then that something in his mind's distance took a final form; "And," pausing for a contemplative sigh, "I was thinking of being honest about it." Mandy was quiet. He saw her face inviting him, her look inviting him; to kiss her or to talk? "So you think you would be taking advantage of me, because of Juvie, right?" Mandy said. Then she did exactly what he had been thinking moments before; she reached across to caress his cheek with her hand and put her lips to his. Her lips so soft, her mouth so sweet, the kiss electric. It was like sinking into a warm caressing pond. He didn't feel it so much as erotic but more as intimate and encapsulating, an intimacy capturing the two of them together. Her hand slid lightly from his cheek to his chest, to his stomach to his thigh. And then Mandy pulled away slowly, slouching back against the car door. Charlie was sure she had experienced it as well. Even in the dull nighttime light he sensed a different shading in her face he suspected was something like a flush, and when he laid his hand against her cheek he felt its warmth. "Charlie," she whispered, and then took a deep breath. "Your kissing is even better than your smiling." Strange comment, Charlie thought, and her backing away. Then it dawned on him, she wanted to get at arm's length from it, perhaps from him. After a moment Mandy confirmed it; "I've been in lust at first sight before, Charlie. And it has sometimes been a mistake. So I have to back off." Echoes of Henry. Charlie nodded once, took her hand and kissed its palm lightly. "Thank you for the dinner, for the kiss, I needed ... I really liked ... both of them." Her smile was so soft, so warm, accepting and promising, that something lifted in Charley. It measured how flagged his spirits had been over these past several weeks, taped the length of his dispirit. Charlie held her gaze for long seconds and then let himself out of the car, backing into the recess of the shop' s rear door, motionless in its shadow until she turned the car out of the alleyway and was gone. ~~~ That kiss. Yes, she had felt it. Dinner had been a great success, the Pambazo perfect, Charlie impressed. Her father had come out of the kitchen to meet him, and Mandy's mother, Asuncion. He knew she could see he was a little embarrassed by all of the attention although appreciating it. He had opened himself up a little bit; "I grew up in a trailer park," he had told her. "No father, just some guys that would occasionally live in." "No father? That hasn't happened in a couple thousand years." He had smiled at that. "Never knew him. He was a guy named Charlie Joyce back in Los Angeles, probably in jail. I'm named after him." A look around the room, clearly evaluating how much to say. "We ended up in Albuquerque, but I don't know why Albuquerque." "And now Amarillo. What's her name? Your mother, I mean. You said Los Angeles. Is that where she is now?" "Blondie, for Blondell. She was a waitress in a diner. That's all I ever knew she did. So we were poor, and I think the poorer you are the faster you grow up. I mean, if you haven't got much you have to pay a little closer attention to how the world around you works. It's not so important if for instance the car always runs or you have the money to fix it when it doesn't. Or you don't have any money in your pocket and that doesn't occur to you until you come across the kids who do. In that sense I think I grew up a little faster. Maybe it makes you what people call shrewd." "And siblings?" "Nope, none. No father, no siblings. A lone ranger, that's me." ~~~ He hadn't answered the second question, about Blondie's whereabouts. Maybe jail, maybe rehab, maybe just gone? A little mystery, this mother. She liked mysteries, but only if she could figure them out. She was attracted, and curious, definitely curious, and in no rush. Things could be skipped, they would get to them later; there would be a later, she was certain of it. A quiet moment, Charley with one hand over the other on the tablecloth, looking down. Mandy was sure he had taken this part of the conversation as far as he wanted it to go. "So why did you save Juvie? Why get involved?" she had asked after his meeting Juvenal and he had returned to the kitchen. "Most people would just turn away, not get involved, not take a chance, especially if there's nothing in it for them. So, why would a nice young Anglo guy give a damn about a Mexican, one in a million, somebody who has nothing to do with him?" That had created seconds of silence between them. She had watched him look at her carefully, as if he were trying to measure her intention in the question. His expression had not gone blank, but there was a hardness of line along the jaw. "I have a feeling for people who look like they're running," he had said finally, and then nothing. She knew it was as close as he would come to telling her a critical something about himself, but it certainly invited a question; "and you, Charlie? Are you running?" "Me? Am I running? From Albuquerque? No, I'm not running." He seemed surprised by the question, almost as if he had been discovered. "OK. Let's just say I'm arriving." It came with that nice smile she liked, but this time manufactured. "And anyway, when Juvie saw the INS van pull over to the curb at the end of the alleyway, well, I don't think I've ever watched anybody deflate like that. I knew he had been running and I knew he had just given up. And it really wrenched something in me." A deft change of subject. "Lucky break for Juvenal," she had said, accepting it. "It looks like the cross worked." "Grandma's cross? Cross for good luck? In high school our baseball coach had a key ring with a rabbit's foot and he would take it out and stroke it sometimes, like when we needed a series really bad. Maybe coach belonged to the church of the astral bunny, or something. What do you think?" "Okay," Mandy said, laughing with him, "Faith and luck. There is a difference. Faith is something you have, and luck is something you hope to get." "Luck or faith, it worked out for Juvie," Charlie said. "I can tell you, it was the kind of despair I have never seen and I was raised in a trailer park full of it. It's as if he was saying, 'I give up. INS wins, I lose.'" Charlie had looked away for a moment and then said, "I saw him wilt and I just had to do something. Maybe you should be afraid of the law, but not its cops." "And you?" "Meaning?" "Have you had to be afraid of the cops?" "Not yet." A big sigh. "I'm doing my best to avoid it." A real difference. He seemed like he had faith in himself. Now he needed some luck. Oh, these young ones. Get a little of them in your mouth and you've swallowed them whole. ~~~ Driving away from the alley she understood what had happened; Charlie Kenway was a new adventure; deep down it excited her. That was it. She liked new adventures, especially adventures with a little risk attached. The cousins and Moe Bishop and the Green Cards, they were risk. So was sex. Always an adventure and with a new guy a little risky. And here was this kid, this Charlie Kenway, a new person, new sex, new adventure. He needed luck, she wanted adventure. Maybe they had something to trade. Oh yes, she had felt that kiss in the alleyway. Juices had flowed and now she was damp with them. She headed back to the restaurant, the apartment upstairs, Amerando and step one of her plan. One last goodbye screw. She would give the son of a bitch a night he would remember and a mistake to cry over, and then she would trade in Amerando for Charlie Kenway. Spider, fly; the excitement caught in her throat. <<<>>>
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