Authors: Tim Maleeny
“Got any porn?”
The kid behind the counter gave Walter a sullen look in response. He was a study in teen angst, his Blockbuster vest askew over his Limp Bizkit t-shirt as if he didn’t give a shit about anything. “What were you looking for?” The punk daring Walter to say a title, trying to embarrass him in front of the rest of the customers.
,” replied Walter, raising his voice. “Volume one or two. Doesn’t matter.” Walter sensed the girl standing behind him in line move backwards a step.
The kid shook his head. “We only carry soft-core.”
“What’s the point?”
The kid didn’t have an answer to that, just stood there and shrugged. Walter wondered if the kid was grumpy because the store didn’t have any porn, or if he was being judgmental. Either way, fuck him.
And fuck this place. Only two of his movies in stock,
The Revenge of the Scorpion
Snakes in the Grass 2
. None of the cockroach movies, not a single fungus flick. What kind of a bullshit Blockbuster was this, anyway? Not that he came to rent his own movies, but still, it was the principal of the thing.
As for the porn, it was just as well this dump didn’t carry any—Walter had to focus on the job at hand. He dropped his stack of DVDs on the counter, twelve in total.
The kid eyeballed the movies as he scanned them. “You havin’ a party?”
“You’re not invited.”
“I’m crushed,” said the kid. “Thirty-two dollars.” He crammed the disks into a bag and twisted his sneer into a smile for the girl standing behind Walter.
Twenty minutes later, Walter sat on his couch, the movies spread across his coffee table.
, both starring Pacino.
, the cocaine flick with Johnny Depp. A bunch of other gangster movies with bullshit titles, second-tier actors, but always drugs as the theme. Then some lighter fare, like Cheech and Chong’s
Up in Smoke
. He even rented
Dude, Where’s My Car
, the stoner classic starring that punk who was boning Demi Moore.
Walter was doing research. He knew he had the Sandwich Brothers by the short hairs, but he also knew the tables could be turned. Happened all the time in the movies. One day you’re on top of the world, just like Pacino in
, and the next day there’s some South American hit squad sent to kill you in your sleep.
Walter had never smoked pot, never used drugs. He came from a different generation, and booze did the trick every time. But now a major source of his income was going to come from a pair of stoners selling pot to a bunch of other dope fiends. Walter needed to understand their psychology, stay one step ahead of them before he got fucked out of his money. And if the movie business had taught Walter anything about life, it was that someone was always trying to fuck you. Walter popped in the DVD of
Dude, Where’s My Car
and sat back on the couch, a ruled notebook and pen on his lap.
It was time to get serious.
Julio didn’t respond, just looked at Jerome with those dead eyes, his ruined face expressionless. Not satisfied, Jerome turned to his brother.
“He wants us to take off our pants?”
Larry shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, his right hand on his belt buckle. He didn’t like where this was going—he felt vulnerable enough already. “That’s what the driver said, Jerome.”
“The guy who left us here with
answer to the incredible Hulk?”
Larry winced, stealing a glance at Julio, but the ugly giant was immobile. “Yeah, that was our driver.
Just do it, OK?
It must be part of Zorro’s security procedure.”
Jerome shook his head, dumbfounded. “Bummer, Larry, ‘cause I was gonna strangle Zorro with my jeans. Now I guess we’ll have to choke him with our socks.”
Julio half-smiled like a man about to be issued a license to kill by Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As deadly and suave as a rattlesnake.
Larry was up on his tiptoes in supplication. “Ignore him, Julio. He’s stoned.” Then to his brother, “
What’s the big fucking deal?
Jerome looked at his feet. “I ain’t wearing boxers, bro.”
Larry sighed and started to say
but caught himself, saying, “Gee, Jerome, I never realized you were so modest.”
“Fuck you, Larry.”
Larry leaned in close and put a tight squeeze on his brother’s shoulder. “Take off your fucking pants, brother.
Jerome did as he was told. He immediately noticed there was a draft coming from outside. Larry followed suit, revealing a pair of boxers with tiny robots on them.
Julio snorted and said something in Spanish. Larry thought he was laughing at his boxers, but Jerome caught the words for
and got pissed.
“That’s right, Julio,” Jerome said testily. “No foreskin. I’m a fucking marvel of modern medicine. Welcome to the U.S. of A.”
Larry almost cringed in anticipation of a slap, but Julio laughed a deep bark from another dimension. He raised a massive arm and gestured toward the stairs. “
The two brothers looked at each other. Now that their moment had come, neither wanted to take the first step.
“Time to see Zorro?” asked Larry, knowing the question served no purpose but to stall.
Julio smiled cruelly. “
,” he said, his voice an octave lower than regret. When he shifted to English, it was somehow even more disconcerting.
“It’s time for you dumbass gringos to meet the Devil.”
Jill sang like a fallen angel.
Her voice was huskier when she sang, a silky contralto laced with sin. The band was a variation on a jazz quartet—stand-up bass, drums, piano, and alto sax. They opened with the usual standards, then segued into songs Sam couldn’t place. The arrangements Jill had been poring over at the bar, songs that Sam felt he must have heard before but somewhere else. Songs from another life.
Half an hour into the set, Sam was having trouble breathing. He had never believed in love at fist sight until he’d met Marie. Now he was wondering if there was such a thing as love at first listen.
You are one lonely bastard
, he thought.
You’ve got to get out more.
Sam scanned the crowd. Four couples at the bar, five guys clustered at the far end, Sadie working the length of it. Waitresses navigating the crowd, crossing lines of sight but never staying in one place. The tables near the stage full, mostly couples but a few with three or four girls crowded around, heads bobbing whenever Jill started wailing. From his perch at the end of the bar Sam had an unobstructed view to the stage, except for a support beam blocking the guy playing the bass. Sam didn’t give a fuck about the bass.
The set lasted an hour, but Sam felt like he’d been listening forever. He could still hear the chords as Jill walked between the tables, nodding her thanks as people clapped, some reaching out to take her hand. She took her seat at the bar, as nonchalant as if she’d just returned from the ladies room. Sadie had a glass of Dewar’s already poured and waiting.
Sam nodded toward the whisky. “That explains the voice.”
Jill smiled and threw back half the glass, sucking air between her teeth. “I only drink wine before my set,” she explained. “This is my drink for winding down.” She took another long sip as Sam watched her.
“So what’d you think?” she asked.
Sam shrugged. “It was OK.”
Jill studied him for a minute, then burst out laughing, a low throaty chuckle that sounded almost as good as her singing. Maybe better.
“It was incredible,” said Sam. “Really great.”
Jill’s eyes sparkled. “Yeah, I really felt it tonight.”
“Me, too.” It was out before he could catch it, but once said, it felt surprisingly comfortable. A simple fact, plainly stated.
Jill nodded as if she’d just made a decision, then drained the rest of her drink, catching an ice cube before setting the tumbler down with a thud. Sadie smiled and took the glass away, leaving them alone. Sam hadn’t noticed she was there.
“So,” Jill said around the ice cube, “What were you saying about dinner?”
“I eat eyeballs.”
To illustrate the point, Zorro reached across his desk and thrust his hand into a jar of blued glass about eighteen inches high, the kind you might see in a candy store filled to the brim with jelly beans. Neither Larry nor Jerome expected to see any jelly beans. Larry grimaced involuntarily while Jerome’s eyes went wide in anticipation. But even before Zorro’s hand re-emerged, a pickled smell wafted across the room like a sigh from an open grave.
Zorro looked more like an alligator than a fox. His teeth jutted past his lips at odd angles, as if someone had gone to work with a pair of pliers but stopped midway through the torture. When he smiled, it was pure Discovery Channel.
Jerome nudged Larry and managed a stage whisper. “
Bro, I don’t think the Mexican mob offers dental as one of their benefits.
Larry hissed, which turned into nervous coughing he couldn’t control. Soon he was hacking and gasping for air. Everyone in the room watched him with morbid fascination, even Zorro, his hand still submerged in the jar. The seconds ticked by.
Larry pulled it together, his eyes watering. Zorro brought his hand to his lips.
It was an eyeball. Through the tears, Larry noticed it looked too big and suspected it was a sheep’s eyeball, considered a delicacy in the Mideast but a disgusting appetizer by any measure. Still, a great way to scare the shit out of people. Sheep eyeball or not, Larry was definitely creeped out.
Jerome was fascinated. “Does it taste like chicken?”
Zorro’s eyes glittered, black as obsidian. His hair matched, slicked back over a high forehead. Deep lines etched his cheeks and made his mouth seem unnaturally wide. Or maybe that was because of the teeth, Larry couldn’t tell. He seriously doubted Zorro was going to model for
“It tastes like
, Jerome,” said Zorro. “Did you know my victims almost always have their eyes cut out?”
Larry cut in. “No—no, he didn’t know that, Zorro. What a great idea.”
Jerome gave his brother a petulant look but let it go. He was wearing a towel courtesy of their host, and some of his confidence had returned.
Zorro sucked his fingers for a moment before saying. “So Buster told me you wanted to visit and I was delighted—but
.” His voice was pure velvet, his accent barely discernible. “You don’t come to my neighborhood, do you?”
“We’ve been busy,” said Larry lamely.
“How busy?” asked Zorro, eyes glowing. Larry met his gaze, only for an instant. Something about the way Zorro asked the question told Larry he’d better come clean before the questions got a lot harder—and the questioning got a lot more insistent. Julio stood behind them, guarding the door, and Larry could sense the giant’s hostility rolling across the room in waves.
Larry spilled his guts, talking so fast even Jerome had a hard time keeping up despite already knowing the details. When he had finished, Larry walked over to a big chair on the right side of the room and sat down, uninvited. He was spent. His bare legs bobbed back and forth, banging together at the knees and making the little robots dance.
Zorro steepled his hands in front of him, shook his head sadly.
“You had blackmail problems before and you didn’t tell me?”
Larry frowned. “You knew about Ed?”
Zorro didn’t answer, which Jerome took as a rebuke.
“We had it handled, Z.”
Zorro gave him a look that suggested no one had called him Z before, but Jerome was oblivious. Zorro turned to Larry. Larry was afraid, and fear always pays attention.
“Someone fucks with you, they are fucking with me,” said Zorro deliberately.
Larry straightened in his chair.
Now we’re talking
“This Ed person,” continued Zorro. “Did you kill him?”
Jerome pointed at Zorro. “I asked Larry the same thing, Z—but he wouldn’t come clean.”
Zorro ignored him. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is this Walter,
Larry nodded from the chair, forcing himself to look Zorro in the eyes again. “
“Fuckin-A,” said Jerome.
Zorro said something in Spanish, too quickly for Larry to catch—high school Spanish was buried deep in his cerebellum, dormant and irretrievable. Julio grunted, turned, and stepped through the door. Zorro turned back to his guests, gesturing toward one of the chairs in front of his desk.
“Sit down, Jerome,” he said. “Relax. I’ve asked someone to join us.”
Jerome took the chair, glanced over at Larry, who looked like he’d just signed a deal with the Devil and was having second thoughts.
“This is going to cost you,” said Zorro, his voice a silk tourniquet.
“No problem,” said Larry, a little too quickly. “We can pay you tomorrow.”
“I don’t think so, Larry.” The tourniquet tightened immeasurably, cutting off the circulation in the room, making the brothers dizzy.
“Today?” asked Jerome. “You want cash today?”
“Not today,” replied Zorro. “And not tomorrow.”
The brothers looked at him and waited for the punch line.
“You see, I don’t want cash,” said Zorro. “I want a percentage.”
The remaining blood rushed from Larry’s face. “But you get a percentage, Zorro.”
Jerome nodded vigorously. “A fuckin’ big one, Z.”
Larry waved him off. “What did you have in mind?”
“Double,” said Zorro simply. It wasn’t a question.
“Double?” Jerome’s eyes bugged out. “But that’s more than fucking Walter is getting.”
Zorro nodded in sympathy. “But unlike Walter, I will never threaten to turn you into the police, eh?”
Larry tried to breathe through his nose but sneezed violently. “I dunno, Zorro, I mean—”
“—then it’s a deal,” said Zorro. “You double my percentage and I kill Walter.” He let that hang in the air a moment before adding, “Unless you’d prefer that I kill you.”
Larry swallowed. Jerome, for once, had nothing to say.
Zorro looked from Larry to Jerome and laughed, a wicked sound that sent a chill down Larry’s spine. He reached into the blue jar and proffered his hand, smiling, his teeth jutting like spikes.
“You guys want an eyeball?”