Midnight at the portal door.
In the shadows behind Duke stood three figures. “Amigos,” he said. “Te presento Don Fatman.”
“¿Fatman?” said the tallest of the bunch. “¿Como El Gordo? Verdad?”
“Un chiste, nada mas.”
“You speak Spanish?” I asked.
“Now I do. Spanish. Tagalog. Russian. Urdu. You name it. Among the perks. Let me introduce these caballeros. Malito. El Raton. Y Florito. You can kind of figure who’s who.”
A scar ran from the crown of Malito’s head to his chin. One eye drooped and his lips were tugged into a permanent sneer. Florito could have been a model in American Pedophile magazine. The Rat? You understand.
“¡Mucho gusto!” I said. “¡Encantado!”
“You’re laying it on a little thick now, Fatman,” said Duke. My new amigos grinned at me. “What you say we get rolling?”
As the cop lights throbbed behind me, Florito yipped, “¿Immigracion?”
“Malito,” Duke said, “tell him not to worry. You guys are already deported. So to speak.”
The crew traded excited conversation in Spanish in the backseat.
“What are they saying?” I asked Duke.
“The usual. They’re the only people in this country who actually work. For that of course they’re persecuted. All the white people should be sent to Mexico, see how it goes for them. Etcetera.”
Duke shrugged. “Life, death, they’re both unfair.”
I pulled over on Summit near one of those big stone churches. In the summer the trees made a canopy. Now a sliver of moon shone through the bare branches. The street was full of dead leaves.
In the rearview mirror I watched the cop hitch up his belt and march toward the Mercedes. I hit the window switch. “What’s the problem, officer?” I said.
He leaned down toward the window.
“Fatman!” he said.
“Roscoe. The graveyard shift? After all these years?”
Roscoe and I grew up a couple blocks from each other. Same Catholic grade school as me and Duke. Back then law enforcement didn’t seem like where he’d end up.
“Why you pulling me over?”
“I didn’t know it was you.”
“Still. What are you doing? I’m a white guy driving down Summit Avenue at twenty-eight miles an hour in a Mercedes.”
“Okay, I felt like it. You want to know the truth. It’s like opening a Christmas present. See what’s inside.”
Roscoe shone his flashlight into the backseat.
“What, Fatman. You running the underground railroad here?”
He turned the light on Duke.
“Again?” Roscoe said. “How many times we got to bury you?”
Roscoe was in on Duke’s post-death caper. Duke hired Roscoe and a couple other Frogtown oddballs to run me and Doris around in circles.
“What’s the play this time?” Roscoe asked.
“I’ll say this for you, Roscoe. You take it in stride.”
“This job, you see it all.”
“What’s with the amigos in the back seat?” Roscoe asked. “Hablan ingles, hombres?”
“No, no, no hablo,” they agreed.
“Of course not. They all dead, too?” Roscoe asked Duke.
“Depends on what you mean, dead.”
“It’s not that complicated.”
“In the sense of not breathing, okay. But you want some work done, these are your caballeros.”
“You don’t mind I ask why you’re driving around with a car full of dead buddies?”
“On our way to a job,” Duke replied.
“I bet this is a good story. How about if I tag along?”
“Shouldn’t you be protecting and serving?” I asked.
“Don’t listen to him, Roscoe. Fall in. Maybe we can work you into the operation.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Roscoe said.
Monday: Used to be a cute place…