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Short Stories
Spider, Fly Moe Bishop! Gross, maximum gross, and she didn't trust the little jerk. But Mandy Abrano was stuck with trusting him and it made her very uncomfortable. It started with the way he looked; fat head on a narrow body, a comb-over of graying silver hair the color of day old slush underlining rather than hiding the bald expanse on top. His coloring was washed out, looking as if the cold gray lighting of Madden's bar where she met him, the only place she had ever seen him, had reversed the concept of tanning. There was always a sheen on his face, suggesting a leak from the crown above. And there was something damp in his voice; "probably from muff diving," when she had asked him if he had a cold. At the heart of this lack of trust was what he did for his clients, for her. He was a forger. Good at it, but all the same a forger, a maker of fakes; fake passports, fake ID's, fake Green Cards. Or rather, he told her he made the finished products he delivered, but Mandy thought he was just the broker. About every three months or so she would meet him in this crummy bar to transact Green Card business and he would do something to gross her out. The last time, he had held out her envelop, moved it to the side as she reached for it from the bar stool, grabbed at her crotch, stuck a wiggling obscene tongue out and said, "let's trade." "Jesus Christ, Bishop! This is supposed to be business;" pushed hard on his shoulder, nearly knocking him off his stool, grabbing the envelop. "I'll give you the business, sweet tits;" groping for a breast, Mandy jumping back. He had to be the broker. There was no way anybody as unappetizing as Bishop could have this kind of talent. In her case it was Moe's Green Cards that saved her from having to hide her 'cousins' until he could come up with a suitable death somewhere in the country that reasonably matched to a Mexican face, and a name suggesting something less than perfect command of the language. It called for a citizen with Latin background or parentage, and a suitable age at the time of death. That's what it took to create a new ID that would hold up, including a workable social security number. How he did any of it Bishop would never say. The Green Cards were totally bogus, only used for flashing at the INS. All Bishop needed was a phone call and a little information plus a photo. She would bring the photo and the data to Madden's, and a week or so later, Green Card. ~~~ Sandy Hermann knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy, and down at the end of that chain was Moe Bishop. "Madden's tomorrow at four," Bishop had said in the first phone call. "All the way out Alameda to the T. It's on the left. Look up the address. There's usually some bikes out front. Wear a dress." "What?" "A dress. You heard me. I got no time to fuck around." Mr. Gangster. Wear a dress. Jesus! Madden's was a gloomy dump, Bishop was a terrible little jerk of a person and Mandy went in that first time with a snub nosed 22 in a trouser pocket she was licensed to carry, bless Texas. What she quickly figured out in the meeting was that Moe Bishop was disagreeably harmless despite the 'Mr. Gangster' persona over the phone. Hidden at the end of a telephone line with that wet threatening voice was one thing. But as soon as you saw him you knew he could only sound threatening, but never be dangerous. ~~~ So she put up with it every three or four months, the rate at which another Mexican cousin would turn up. She was thirty one and according to her carefully kept records, she had met twenty four of her 'cousins' over the past eight years. The price Mandy had paid for the line to Moe Bishop had been pleasantly light; about a one month affair with Sandy Hermann. Sandy was really Sandor. He had graduated from UT a year before Mandy. He was a popular, open, easy going guy who liked to know everybody and to be known by everybody. That was the original connection to Mandy. One of these 'everybodys' knew "this great Mexican restaurant", and being within viewing distance of Mandy, he had made it his business to be known by her. And then her problem with the cousins and Green Cards, which led to the guy he knew, and so on. ~~~ It wasn't until Sandy that she discovered what she didn't know about sex, and that she needed to be the stronger of the partners, the leader not the follower, in charge, in control. It leached any fear she might have had of men right out of her, and made it possible for her to deal with the Moe Bishops of the world. And the acquisitive dimension was important. After Sandy she always sensed a desire to 'capture'; spider and fly. They could be tasty but elusive, no guarantees. She wanted control but with Sandy it had been the other way around; she owed him. To Mandy's mind it had made it easy for Sandy to dump her, to kiss her off with an announcement of an engagement, debt canceled. The arrival of 'cousins' had started out late one summer afternoon. There was a phone call for Diego in the kitchen and she was sent to a crappy gas station and busted down general store combination sulking in the heat of an endless flatness around ten miles beyond the final development outpost off Amarillo's southwestern edge. Two cousins, barely a word of English between them, maybe 18 or 19 years old and with skills limited to a mop and degreaser rags. It was instantly clear to Mandy there was a problem when she first saw them squatted like peasants just off the edge of a tired looking porch. Within two days it was as clear to Diego; they were underfoot in the kitchen and underfoot at home. They couldn't go outdoors and he understood it wouldn't be long before they would drive Diego’s wife and probably himself to distraction, not to mention the kitchen staff on busy nights. In less than a week he had dumped the problem on Mandy, his problem solver daughter, college graduate and real American. The restaurant had an unfinished second floor less than half filled with things to do with the restaurant. So Mandy got a college buddy who had graduated with her and was now working in construction and construction management to lay out a one bedroom apartment with bathroom and small kitchen. Then she set the two cousins to work building it. Plans were drawn, Mandy acted as foreman, and in three weeks it was finished, the cousins moved in and sanity restored at the Abrano home. There was more to it, of course, than just getting them out of the family's hair. They needed to learn something about a restaurant kitchen, and English. And if they were ever going to be able to go outside to walk around on the streets, take a bus, have a sandwich somewhere, get a job, they needed a Green Card. Omar Carnejo came in every night at 10PM and started the kitchen cleaning; floors, cutting boards, shelves, ovens, stoves, and once a month the walls and the exhaust systems. She paid him a little extra and assigned the cousins to him as apprentices. They also needed at least beginning English and for that she hired a tutor who arrived at the restaurant at ten in the morning and for two hours worked on the language. It usually didn't take much more than ten weeks for enough English to soak in for the latest cousin to be able to take on a minimum wage job, and another two months and they could be out on their own. It was the Green Cards that had her stumped until Sandor. Since then the road for Mexican immigration through Cantina Amarillo had been smooth, with Moe Bishop the only pothole. ~~~ And now it was Amarando. The little pissant! Mandy had been very clear. No relationships, no connections, no obligations, not in Amarillo. How much clearer could she be? What part of 'no', Mexican or English, didn't this 'cousin' understand? She turned away from the small crowd leaving the early Saturday show at the Astrid and hurried around the corner, and then to the parking garage and her car. She would take care of Amerando, but not here, not with his little teeny bopper. He and his big cock, inquisitive hands, insolent fingers. It had been an exciting secret to sneak up to the apartment a night or two a week after the restaurant closed and roll around naked with him for an hour or so. Well tough. He was headed back to Mexico with all of his pieces and parts. Amerando was in the US because of her, in Amarillo, had a job, was learning English, all because of her. And he had sex because of her, good sex. Sure she had ten years on him but she looked good with her clothes off and she knew it. And all she asked in return was a few months' worth of patience, and he could be on his own, just a few months of patience. And here he was out in broad daylight at a movie with a skinny kid that didn't look over fifteen, so bleakly thin her belly screamed pregnant. Jesus! Sometimes she wished she could just bring their sex across the border and leave the rest of them back in the mountains with the goats and the mules. She sat quietly in her car, letting the afternoon light and the building's natural shadows fold over her, softening her anger to calculation. It took about ten minutes but she had a plan. The first step was to get the card back. Easy enough on one of her visits; sex with a mission; missionary sex. She had to get Amerando traveling. It called for an INS threat and then a ride to the border. ~~~ Juvenal was sitting on the flat pebbled roof leaning back against a brick chimney. He had caught his breath. Now he was trying to catch his heartbeat. Running was one thing, running from fear something else. He didn't really believe he had gotten clean away from the INS, but he was sure he was safe up here, at least for the time being. He needed some way to find Diego, or at least to call the restaurant and they could pick him up. He knew the address, but had no idea how to get there. No trick, of course, if he could simply make a phone call, but that required having some money in his pocket and it had taken all he had to buy the cross back from that bastardo ladrón. He didn't even know why he still had it with him. If it hadn't been around his neck it wouldn't have been stolen and he would not have had to buy it back. But his abuela Delfina had given it to him. He had just stepped off the cubierta, his first step North, when he heard his name in her hoarse whisper. "Juvenal". Day in and day out his grandmother sat there on the tiny wooden space they called their porch, in a worn and weather beaten cane chair she had been given on her wedding day who knows how many years ago. "Ven aca, chico. Tengo un encanto para tu." A charm. He didn't need a charm, he needed a better map, clearer instructions, more money than the pathetic amount in his pocket, and another several days' worth of beans and frijoles in his backpack. But she was his grandmother and part of the reason why he was headed toward America. She had created him thru his father, created his brothers and sisters, all those who needed him to be in America to work for them, to feed them. He honored his abuela and respectfully accepted the cross she held out to him. For her it was a charm blessed by the hand of the church, for Juvenal a sign of respect. And for the ladrón, the opportunity to steal the little bit of money left after the crossing. He was sitting on the flat roof of a building row, three stories up. To his right there was another row of buildings across the chasm of an alleyway at just about the same height, and beyond that a westering sun signaling something like four or five in the afternoon. He was hungry and afraid to move in daylight. But he had to move because there was no way he could figure out where he was after nightfall to tell Diego, if he could manage to call him. He had run up the steps of what looked to him like an apartment building, hoping there would be an entry way to the roof, and he'd gotten lucky. That had been about an hour ago. Now he decided it was time to move on. Juvenal found an iron fire ladder on the alley side of the building. It dropped down to a fire escape which in turn reached down to the alley. The alley itself was open at either end and empty except for a dumpster against the opposite building. He had to decide which way to go; either way was unknown open space. He hesitated for just a moment; To Hell with it. Screw it, he said to himself in Spanish, dropping onto the fire escape and a few moments later into the alley itself. He turned to his left toward the closer of the two exits just as a young guy lugging a couple of large plastic trash bags came out of a door next to the dumpster. Juvenal had started down the alley and it was a natural reaction to look over at him. As he did he caught a fleeting glimpse of an INS car passing the frame of the building lines beyond the alley entrance and pulling into the curb. He started in the opposite direction, but a gray wave of failure coursed over him. He was weary, weary of running, weary of fear. He wanted to just sink down and sit there until they found him. He could feel tears coming to his eyes; so much work to get this far, so close to Diego and all that Diego offered him and his family. To end here in this alley by a dumpster. How fitting in a world that thought of him as trash. Suddenly he realized the fellow with the trash bags had set them down by the dumpster and was gesturing him into the doorway. It didn't register for a few seconds but then closing car doors echoing up the sides of buildings got him moving and in five steps he was inside. It was a short hallway with more trash bags and cardboard boxes and Juvenal hunkered down behind them against the wall. He could hear several people coming up the alleyway talking to one another and saw the young guy reach in to pull out two bags, leaving him exposed to anybody who might come even a foot through the doorway. The thought that he was about to be handed over to the INS froze him to the spot and he simply sank down to the floor, knees up to his chest, arms wrapped over them, his head folded in. ~~~ "Nope. It was this empty when I came out here to dump the trash a few minutes ago. Haven't seen anybody since." Some noises and bumping sounds. Someone saying, "Looks like just the usual stuff, Danny. No beaners here." More conversation, three whistle blasts, steps back down the alley. Trash bags drumming thumps. A large cardboard box pulled through the doorway followed by two more bags. A light touch on his shoulder; "Just wait here a moment." He sat there sobbing quietly, the tears washing through him. ~~~ Coming through the doorway a trash bag in each hand, Charley had seen a young Mexican, a thin teenager, just coming off the bottom flight of fire stairs that zigzagged down past windows to the alley. He had turned to look up the alleyway when he spotted Charlie and stopped, as if the last thing he expected to see was another person there. At almost the same moment Charlie spotted a large black van pulling into the curb just beyond the end of the alley entrance, and recognized the INS emblem on its door. The kid had seen it as well, his head whipping around and then looking back at Charlie with the saddest expression Charlie thought he had ever seen on anyone. His shoulders slumped, he looked deflated and hollowed out as if something inside had abandoned him. Charlie instantly understood that this person was running, a fugitive, and immediately identified with him. He dropped the trash bags next to the dumpster, gestured to the young man toward the doorway, followed him in and pulled out two more bags as three uniformed men rounded the corner and came up the alleyway. Charlie heaved the bags into the dumpster one at a time and then turned to the men coming toward him with eyebrows raised, a curiosity look. The guy apparently in charge gestured toward one the men who climbed up on the ribbing of the dumpster to look into it, pushing things around, making hollow thumping sounds. He sent the second one up to the far end of the alleyway and turned to Charlie. "We're looking for a couple of Mexicans," he said in a quiet voice. "Anybody come through here in the last ten minutes or so?" "Nope. I'm cleaning out a basement and been in an out for a while now. It was this empty when I came out here a few minutes ago. Haven't seen anybody since." The head man assessed Charlie for a moment or so, looked at his trash bags and nodded. "Right," he said, pulling a whistle out of his shirt pocket. He blew three sharp blasts that started the man at the end of the alley back, while the one on the side of the dumpster continued to bump around in it, finally climbing down Then, after a few words, the three of them headed back down the alleyway toward their vehicle. After the INS people were gone, Charlie found the Mexican kid curled up on himself on the floor shaking with silent sobs that he put down to the tension of a narrow escape. Standing there, Charlie understood that this kid, running from authority, had a familiar ring for him. It took Juvenal a little while to get himself under control and his emotions organized to the point where he could tell Charlie, in rough barely serviceable English, about a truck picking him up in some shadowy place this side of the border along with a bunch of others, and that he could call someone who would come for him. He pulled a small, worn out looking snap purse from a pocket and handed Charlie a rumpled scrap of paper with a phone number on it. Apparently, wherever he was headed a phone call would get him there. ~~~ Charlie had planned on waiting until his ride showed up before parading him past Paulo, the bicycle shop's owner. But Paulo looked up from his communion with the gods of bicycle rejuvenation almost at five on the dot and announced he had had it for the day, asked Charlie how he was doing with the basement, reminded him to lock up, and was gone, saving Charlie a good deal of explanation and probably some argument. About 45 minutes later a new looking Oldsmobile 4-door showed up. It was driven by a very attractive older Latina, maybe thirty or so he thought as he watched her get out of the car, or perhaps late twenties. Her face was strong, something aggressive about its well defined features, the forehead wide, coloring an even light ocher like an ideal tan, the whole framed by glistening black hair cut business-like short. Her piercing eyes were artistic black jewels making their own light, a searching, inquisitive light, with something demanding about them. She seemed to burst through the shop's front door with an intensity that bore down on him almost as if she were trying to see through his clothes. "Hello," she said. "You called about Juvie and I'm here to pick him up." The fugitive's name but not hers. Somehow he was completely flustered by something about her that made the moment completely unexpected. "Uh, yes. Juvie. I'll get him." He stepped behind the counter, called out, and he appeared instantly in the doorway to the basement. "Your ride is here." He went quickly to the woman, the two of them rattling Spanish back and forth. In another minute they were out the door trailing a small storm of multilingual gratitude. Midafternoon the next day that same Oldsmobile turned up again but this time with a different driver and an invitation from a person named Mandalit Abrano for a dinner at the restaurant, Cantina Amarillo, that had absorbed his rooftop fugitive. 'Bring a friend', it said. Charlie had the thought that he would meet the woman again and decided to pass on the idea of bringing someone with him. The decision gave the invitation a feeling of adventure. He could use a little adventure. ~~~ Cantina Amarillo was located on the east side of the city. It took two buses to get there. From the outside there was little other than the name that suggested Mexico, and even less so on the inside. The restaurant itself was fairly large, holding some thirty tables. It was close to seven on a Friday evening, the place teeming with customers and the energy of waiters and bus boys skimming around the room. "Do you have a reservation sir?" Charlie was just beyond the entrance in front of a podium desk. A carefully pressed middle aged man was looking up at him from his table assignment chart; the maitre'd, gleaming white shirt, thin black tie, something precise about the voice. "Oh, yes. I guess I do." He pulled an envelope from a pocket of the light jacket he was wearing. 'We would like to express our appreciation to you for bringing Juvenal to us ...', signed by someone named Mandalit Abrano. He handed over the invitation. Immediately the man straightened up, offered his hand and a beaming smile. "You're Juvenal's friend. Thank you so much for coming. I'm Enrique Abrano, Mandalit's uncle. She's expecting you." 'Mandalit ', a she; he had assumed it was a male name, perhaps the guy who had delivered the letter, although he had never heard it before. "Yes, I am expecting you." She had just come up behind him. "Mandalit Abrano. Mandy to everybody who counts." Here she was again. Not a beautiful woman, but arresting, you would turn to follow Mandalit with your eyes when she walked past. And you would see a very confident physicality about her, something special, perhaps commanding, an aura of energy just held in check. And something else. A word hovered in Charlie's mind, just at the edge of expression. 'Perky' bubbled up, but that wasn't it; she was hardly teen-age cute, far too sharp, far too intense ... he must have looked dumbfounded, because she said, "Mandalit? As in the invitation? I'm the one who picked Juvie up," and then put her hand out to him. The gesture snapped his attention back. He took the offered hand, returned her smile. "Sorry. I must have left my manners back at the bike shop." Her hand seemed so soft in his, not fragile, but feminine soft though the grip was firm, purposeful. "Charlie. Charlie Kenway. And the shop, it's Paulo's. He owns it and I work for him." "Well, you are most welcome in the house of Abrano, Charlie Kenway." She linked an arm with his and guided him away, her other hand riding lightly on his forearm. "Come. We have a table for you." ~~~ Continued on next page.
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