Barely twelve hours ago I thought I had everything sewn up. I found the guy. I just needed to bring him to justice - isn’t that what Perry Mason said, or maybe it was Jack Lord. As happened a bit too often, I had just regained consciousness.
The camera lens inside my head rotated and light flooded into my vision. I focused on a patch of wall that was the exact shade of a honeydew melon. The colour looked so perfect that I almost forgot about the .45 pointed at my forehead.
I fast-tracked through my brain. I had dipped into a touristy joint that sold overpriced Chili Rellenoes to the polyester bermudas and flip-flop set. I recognized Mr. Charmer on the account of his glowing bald head and ugly-ass lizard tat. Two Pacificos and bowl of tostados later, I followed him into the bathroom and—
“Who are you supposed to be?” Charmer nudged an extra crease in my forehead.
I looked at the walls again. What a damn nice colour for a bano – more like south Florida than Mex.
“Fish for what?” Another nudge. “You were watching me at the bar. You some sorta perv? Is that some sort of homo term? Fisher? Following me into the john. I should rap you another one.”
The rest of my brain caught up with my vision. I connected being out cold with the growing pain at the back of my head.
“How ‘bout I do some of my own fishing wise-ass?”
He pulled out my wallet and riffled through it like he was about to do a magic trick.
“Humpf. So that’s your name. Well big-fuckin-whoop. You ain’t fishing this guy you son-of—”
I yanked hard on his dangling shoe lace that I’d grabbed while he flipped through my ID. It was enough to throw him off balance. I slammed my hand under his wrist and smashed the end of the .45 into his forehead. The way he handled the gun, I didn’t think the guy knew how to fire it anyway. I was up on my feet now and Charmer was off his.
“I hope you didn’t barter for this piece of junk. You bought it on the malecon, didn’t you?” I slammed my knee under his chin and kicked hard into his chest. His trailer-trash ass skidded across the floor. “Probably right next to the sand castles. And you call me a jackoff.”
The bathroom door flew open. In raced the overly bicepped guy that Mr. Charmer had been downing tequila with at the bar. He took a wild swing at my head. I easily moved under it, a quick feint and a duck, and then an uppercut into the basket. He face-planted, gasped on the floor like a trout on the beach. Charmer got up from his ass-over tea kettle posture and came at me hard.
I stopped him with his raised, and shitty, but now cocked, revolver.
“So, here’s the thing. I actually know how to fire these.”
He gave me a deer in the headlights and wetness in the boxers look.
“Sit your ass back down and I’ll tell you what the what.” I pointed over at his friend. “And tell wheezy there that I’ve put down a lot bigger guys than him. You knocking my head against this pretty Mexican tile has put me a piss-poor mood.”
I pivoted, backed up to the door and slid the metal bar into the notch.
“What do you want?” Charmer asked. “I have like, two hundred pesos on me. We’re not even worth robbing. Steve what do you got?”
“Save it. You sound like a leaky raft. This isn’t about money.” I kept an eye on the big one, in case he suddenly got upright.
“Then what?” Charmer asked.
“It’s about Beatrice.”
“You’re shitting me.”
A bang on the bathroom door.
“Hey, what’s going on? This isn’t that kind of place!”
“No problemo, por favor. So sorry, Senor. Be out in a momento.”
“You’re Spanish sucks,” Steve said.
“Yeah, well my dead grandmother could throw a better punch than you. And who the hell did that tattoo?” I looked at Charmer. “I hope you were plastered when you got it.”
“Who is Beatrice?” Steve said, slowly standing.
“Sit back down there, golden boy.” I waved the .45 in his direction.
“My ex.” Charmer spit a loogie against the melon wall.
“So who’s this guy?” Steve asked.
“One of the low life scum that—“
“Look, happy pals, we all got problems,” I started. “Charmer, you got an ugly-ass tattoo, and a wardrobe that’d make a gay decorator lose his lunch. Stevie there has the biceps of longshoremen, and the fighting ability of a nymph.”
“A nymph – like from the woods,” I said.
“I think you mean a centaur,” Charmer said.
My head throbbed. I rapped him across the head with the gun stock.
“Dammit. I know what I mean. Like I said, we got problems. Me, I have the shitty job of tracking deadbeats down for their ex-wives in Wisconsin.”
“You don’t look like you’re from Wisconsin,” Charmer said.
“Driving through. Stopped for cheese.”
Another bang on the bathroom door. Someone asked something that I didn’t understand. Damn, I needed to take some classes.
Steve rattled off in Spanish and the guy left.
“Not bad,” I said. “Okay, listen up my new best friends. We can waltz out of here compadre style, maybe even have a cool one for the road. You will be buying. But then I need to take you, Mr. Bad Tat, to the PV airport, where we will enjoy a lovely flight back to Madison with complimentary peanuts. Or we could go a different way, and you can write some cheques for—”
The metal bar jangled and the door fell in. A guy with even bigger biceps than my fluent pal, Steve followed. I swung the .45 in his direction, hoping like hell I didn’t have to actually fire the rusted thing. Lucky me. The new musclehead had a great right hook. He clocked me before I could even say something clever.
I was back on the tile floor where I started. The honeydew melon started to fade. One of them, I guessed Steve, gave me a farewell boot. I heard some sirens and a bunch of swearing in Spanish. Those were words I knew.
Next time in Surf City Acid Drop
I leaned against the back wall of Benno’s place and sipped my Negro Modelo, disappointed that he didn’t stock Pacificos. The ice-filled tub of brown stubbies with the gold tops that glittered like they were winking at me eased my melancholy. It was a usual Benno affair – men in cream suits, and turistas in bad bermudas mingled about downing shots of Tequila and sucking limes. Benno wanted me there as a presence.