E X C E R P T
Stick said he wasn’t going if they had to pick up anything. Rainy said no, there wasn’t any product in the deal; all they had to do was drop a bag. Stick said, “And the guy’s giving you five grand?”
“It makes him feel important,” Rainy said, “it’s how it’s done. Listen, this’s the big time, man, I’m taking you uptown.”
Rainy told Stick he didn’t even have to say a word unless the guy Chucky asked him something. Which he probably would, Chucky liked to talk. He was a you-all, he talked real nice and easy, real slooow, slower than you, Rainy said. Stick said he could hardly wait to meet the guy, thinking: Rainy and Chucky . . . like they were hanging around the playground.
You go out to Hialeah, Calder, Rainy said, everybody out there, the cocktail waitresses, everybody, they call him just Chucky. But you go down on Southwest Eighth Street, around in there, or some places down in SouthMiami where they used to know him on the street, anybody down there they still call him Chucky Buck, Rainy said. It was like his street name before he moved up to his top floor condominium. Yeah, Chucky Buck. Now, he went to his country club, any place like that, he used his real name again, Chucky Gorman. He was about forty but tried to act young. Big guy. Not real fat, but he had a weird shape for a guy, like a woman. Maybe he was even kind of a weird person, some people thought he was a switch-hitter. But a nice guy. You could jive with him, say anything you want, Chucky never got bummed or nothing.
Rainy’s real name was Rene Moya: light-skinned Puerto Rican and something like one-eighth Haitian from his mother’s side. He drove van loads of marijuana from Miami up the Interstate to Toledo and Detroit. He weighed a hundred and thirty and wore a neat little waiter mustache.Stick’s name was Ernest Stickley, Jr. He was forty-two years old, born in Norman, Oklahoma, but raised in Detroit where his dad had come to work at Ford Rouge. Stick looked like he was from another time: dustbowl farmer turned hobo. He was at a low point in his life.
He and Rainy had met in Jackson, Michigan, when both of them were staying at 4000 Cooper Street, gateway to the world’s largest walled prison: Stick doing seven to twenty for armed robbery; Rainy three to four, possession with intent to deliver, after they told him, “You walk you talk,” which meant probation, and he turned them down, hung in and did the full three. Rainy got out a few months before Stick’s release date. He told Stick to come down to Miami and get some sunshine, some fresh air, man, meet some chicks. Stick said he was going down there anyway to see his little girl; he hadn’t seen her since she was seven.
What they were doing now was not recreation; it was to make a buck.
Stick kept looking at the girl-bartender because she was so fresh and clean looking she could be in an orange juice or a suntan lotion ad. She had a glow to her, perfect tan, perfect white teeth, a tall girl with nice easy moves, natural. She wore a little nameplate that said her name was Bobbi.
They had come up from Miami to Lauderdale in Rainy’s new van to meet this guy Chucky and run the errand for him.
The place they were in was called Wolfgang’s, a marina bar on the Intracoastal at Sunrise. Outside, every half hour a bell would start dinging and the bridge would go up to let a few cruisers and sailboats go by. Inside, then, somebody down at the end of the bar would blow what sounded like a foghorn, a baritone moan and everybody, all the late aftenoon fun-seekers, would break up. There was a terrace outside with an awning where you could sit and drink and watch the boats go by. Otherwise, it was like a lot of bars with rose-tinted mirrors and high-gloss wood-grained plastic. A Happy Hour bar.
Everybody was sure working at it.
Didn’t these people have any problems?
Even Rainy Moya seemed happy, feeling the beat and giving the oval edge of the bar funky little finger slaps like it was a fifty-foot bongo. Stick thought it was disco, the music coming out of turned-up speakers somewhere. He mentioned the word disco and the guy on the bar stool to his right—maybe the only guy in the place older than Stick, a hairy bald-headed guy wearing mirror sunglasses and a nautical blue-with-white-piping beach outfit—said disco was out, nobody discoed no more. Stick didn’t like the guy looking at him, hanging on everything he said to Rainy. He asked what people did now if they didn’t disco and Rainy said they fucked. Rainy said man, you been away too long, you got to get caught up with the scene. The music still sounded like disco. Latin disco. Rainy said no, man, it’s fusion, it’s rock, it’s a lot of beats. Where you been?
Stick thought he had kept up. Eleven Block, for honor inmates in maximum security, had its own lounge area on the floor of the cellblock with a color TV. But maybe he had missed a few important events and passings. Nobody had told him when Warren Oates died last spring. He had heard about Belushi but not Warren Oates. He subscribed to magazines . . . He did a hundred push-ups and sit-ups a day the first year and toward the end of the seventh year.
Rainy and the tourist in the beach outfit were talking past Stick, vouching for each other, the guy saying everything was different now and Rainy saying that’s right. The guy saying especially the broads. Rainy saying that’s right, nudging Stick and saying listen to him. The guy saying he was married twice but not now, all the stuff around, a guy would have to be out of his mind to get married. Stick glancing at the guy—thinking no way, never, not this guy—and seeing two of himself, his face distorted, sickly, in the guy’s mirror sunglasses; he looked a little better in the tinted glass behind the bar, but the girl-bartender, Bobbi, giving all the loudmouths a nice natural smile, meaning it, not putting it on, made him feel old. Why was she happy, working in this place, watching people get smashed? . . . Rainy was saying that’s right, man, you don’t have to waste no time buying drinks you don’t want to; you see a chick you ask her she want to do it, man; she don’t, okay, no problem, man, you go ask the next one.
Stick left his bourbon and went to the men’s room. He strained over a martini shaker, pouring, raising the shaker up and down, twisting off that last drop. “Get your ass down here,” the tourist said, “We need you.” He said to Stick, “I wouldn’t mind some of that. How about you?”
Stick looked at the guy hunched over the bar, hairy arms, big hand wrapped around a gin and tonic. Stick said, “You got short eyes? That your problem?”
The guy’s forehead creased. “What?”
Stick turned away. The girl was coming over to Rainy now. She looked like Cybill Shepherd, tall, that type, but younger. She was about the healthiest-looking girl Stick had ever seen. Outdoor looking in a pink knit shirt with a little alligator on it, one of those polo or golf shirts—but not like the other girl-bartender who wore hers tight with her breasts sticking straight out, encased—no, Bobbi wore hers loose with a natural sexiness in the way it hung and the way it strained against her when she made certain moves.
She seemed almost too young to be working in here.
Stick’s daughter was fourteen. He hadn’t seen her yet. He’d called, spoken briefly to his ex-wife.
Rainy was saying to the girl, “Chucky been in?”
She shook her head. “Haven’t seen him.” She said, ‘No, so far it’s been a perfect day.”
“I wasn’t sure he stuck his head in and we might have missed him,” Rainy said.
She said, “Are you serious? How could you miss Chucky?”
Stick liked her tone, the easy confidence. He’d bet she was aware and didn’t miss much. She said, “You guys want another one?” looking from Rainy this way, directly at him now. Stick shook his head. Her eyes lingered a moment and he felt a lift and wanted to say something to her.
The tourist said, “You can do me. Fact I’d let you do just about anything you want to me.”
She said, “Big deal.”
The tourist said, “Honey, it might be the biggest deal you ever saw. If you get my meaning.” He reached over to pat her hand, resting on the bar.She raised her eyebrows and began to say something as Stick said to the tourist, “Keep your hands off her.”
The tourist looked over. “What?”
Bobbi said, “The way it goes, don’t touch what you can’t afford.”
Rainy was off his stool. He came around with his hand moving across Stick’s back. He said, close to him, “Hey, come on, man, let’s take it easy.”
Stick said, “Short eyes. . . look at him.”
The guy said, “The hell’s he talking about?”
Rainy, still close to Stick, said, “For who, man? We’re in a bar.”
“Look at him,” Stick said.
“All right, it’s all right, man, we got to leave anyway. It’s time to go.” Rainy kept his hands on Stick’s shoulders, turning him away from the tourist, getting him down from the stool.
The tourist took off his sunglasses, squinting, sitting up straight. “What’d he just say?”
“It’s okay, we got to go,” Rainy said and looked at Bobbi, who hadn’t moved. “Lemme have the check. No, we’ll be back. I’ll take care of it later. Okay?”
Stick heard the guy say, “Jesus Christ, some kind of weirdo . . . ” but didn’t look at him or at the girl. He was strung up and had to get out of here.