14. We Got People

Fifteen minutes to kill before opening the portal.

The bottle Duke opened during his last visit was still on the table. I emptied the last few drops from my glass on the stone floor, pulled the cork. Stopped. Considered. Decided, oh, what the hell. And then…

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Next, a muffled roar. “Fatman! Fatman!”

I dropped the glass and watched as it splintered. A purple fog drifted over the floor.

“Fatman!”

I staggered out of the chair, onto my feet.

“All right,” I mumbled. “All right.”

I pulled back the oak bar on the portal, tugged at the steel bolt. The door grumbled on its hinges. Duke glared at me.

“I give you my Rolex and you still can’t tell time?”

“The wine,” I said with a fluttering gesture.

“Drinking alone, my friend. Bad idea. Especially that stuff.”

“What’s in it again?”

“Fairy dust. Poison. You don’t want to know. You ought to dump the rest down the drain. But you won’t.”

“Probably not.”

“I don’t have all night, Fatman. We got work to do.”

I followed him back to the wine cellar. Duke moved awkwardly, as if he might fall to pieces.

“You think a walker would help?” I asked him as he settled into a chair.

“What you mean, a walker?”

“Your gait. It’s not a zombie shuffle, but…”

“Jesus, what would people think? Duke Black with a walker.”

“You’re dead. Nobody thinks you’re healthy.”

“Deadist.”

“What?”

“Forget it. Tell me, you got the tenants out?”

“They trashed the place, but they’re out.”

“No problem. We’ll get a crew in. We got people.”

“Living?”

“Not really.”

“They’re up for a full day of work?”

“All day, all night, they don’t care. A little slow maybe, but the thing is, they don’t stop. Sleeping, eating, no need.”

“What happened to laying your burden down?”

“People are who they are. I still want to make a deal. That’s me. Our crew, all Mexican roofers.”

“They still want to work?”

“What? You think all of a sudden they want to sing hosannah twenty-four seven? I get it, Fatman, you’re not a worker. But these guys? They want a hammer in their hand, norteña on the radio.”

“Sounds like racist claptrap. No offense.”

“Call it what you want. All I’m saying is, we’ll get a crew in. Three, four days, your place will look like Mister Clean was living there. We’ll get some desks, hang a shingle.”

“You settle on a name?”

Duke sighed. “It was just me, trust me, I’d have a name. But Pimlipper and Graydon, they’ve got their opinions. Our branding doll, Lacey McNutty, she’s got a notebook full of options. Slogans. Logos. Egbert Lutherson, you remember him?”

“Jumped off the freeway bridge? University professor?”

“After the sex thing, yeah. The dog’s owner would have killed him anyway. He heads up our evaluation unit.”

“Interesting choice.”

“Decision-making in his personal life, okay, there were problems. But he’s got insight. He shines a light onto the dark side.”

“That I believe.”

“A few details, we’ll be good to go.”

“Details. I figured.”

“Don’t get your back up. It won’t cost you a cent.”

“So what is it?”

“Getting the guys to the work site. Easiest thing is, you let them through the portal here. Drive them to the site.”

“I’m running a hearse service? What we call it? Unter?”

“Ha ha. Listen, it’s a one time deal. You get them there, they stay until they’re done.”

“They bring their own tools?”

“Of course. They’re professionals.”

“Materials?”

“You make the order.”

“I thought this wasn’t going to cost me a cent?”

“A few bucks for plaster board, paint, odds and ends. You get the your trashed joint fixed up. And you’re choking me over materials? Please, Fatman.”

“Okay. Okay.”

“When do we start?”

“I got the guys scheduled for tomorrow. Midnight work for you?”

Tomorrow: We don’t need no Luigi

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