Six ~ Caliste
We took a circuitous route to Blue Moon. The first stop was a rather disreputable garage where Butch handed over the Mustang, much to my disapproval.
“What are they going to do to that car?” I asked, limping along at his side as he guided me, arm protectively around my waist, into the small office of one Jimmy “Bologna” Fitzsimmons. “Are they storing it for Raphael?”
“Yeah, they’re storing it.” Butch shut the door just as someone with an air gun began removing the tires from Raphael’s car.
“Piece by piece?” I asked, easing my ass down into an ugly green chair that was coated with greasy black fingerprints. I cringed, then let it go. My clothing was from a lost and found box. Why fret over a little bit of grease on my backside.
“Yep, takes up less room that way. Let me get some aspirin for you. Jimmy’s going to loan us a less noticeable ride.”
“Surely, you don’t think that I’m that stupid to not realize that this is a chop shop and that you just sold a classic automobile to a criminal?”
“I never said you were stupid, Caliste. Far from it.” He bent over to run some water into a dirty coffee mug. The man had a lovely ass. Round and solid looking. Just like the rest of him. Whatever are you doing, eying your employers buttocks at a time like this?! “I just…” He stood, his brow furrowing. He hissed at the crinkling of his stitches. “I’m trying to keep you out of the riff-raff and all this seediness.”
“Good Lord, Beauregard, I am a male escort. I literally sucked my way out of the bayou and fucked myself north. While I take great delight in how you view me as a refined and delicate creature, I am far from it!”
“Duly noted.” He passed me the water and a bottle of plain white aspirin tablets he’d swiped from the garage. “Yes, this is a chop shop. Yes, I trust Jimmy. Me and him grew up together and even though he does smell like bologna left out in the sun too long, he’s one of the goods ones.”
I washed down two aspirin, then passed the mug back to Butch. He did the same. “Can you tell me who’s dead? Not one of ours, I pray.”
“Yeah, it was Jet.” I gasped in horror. He crouched down beside me; hazel eyes filled with concern. “I promise I will not let anything happen to you. Trust me. I’ve been playing on these streets for a long time. I know how the mob works, and I know how to get around them. We will take them down.”
I had a thousand questions, all of them dark and worrisome, but I kept them to myself. Butch was trying. And I did have faith in him. He was nothing if not ferocious when it came to those he cared about, and I surely had no ideas or answers to this deadly predicament.
“I know you will.” I patted his hand, noting the caked blood under his fingernails. Mine were just as bad. The door flew open and Jimmy, a short man who waddled like a penguin and oozed garlic, tossed Butch a keyring.
“’97 Plymouth Voyager with running boards and one of them stupid stick family stickers in the back window. Parked around back. Silver with green molding. Don’t mind the lack of seats in the back. DEA ripped them all out when they busted Manny Tripper.”
Butch took my hand and helped me to my sandaled feet. “Thanks, Jimmy. Tell Myra I said hi and to cut back on your carbs.” Butch patted Jimmy’s rotund belly, shook his meaty paw, and hustled me out the back door as quickly as I could hustle, which wasn’t quickly at all.
Several of Jimmy’s employees were lingering out back smoking cigarettes. I gimped along with my chin up, letting their rude comments about me slither off my back like rain off a swan. I’d heard the nasty words before, many times. When Butch started to mouth back, I shook my head delicately and shushed him.
“I don’t like men talking to you like that,” Butch growled, then opened the door of the silver minivan and assisted me up into it. “Next time I see them, I’m going to knock their empty heads together. Sit easy now, let me buckle you in.”
He leaned around me. I eased myself back into the seat and began picking at tiny bits of dirt and debris in his thick hair.
“You spoil me,” I whispered, my fingers roaming through his brown hair, enjoying the play of it, even if it were crusty at the moment.
He glanced up from the buckle. “You deserve to be spoiled.”
Not knowing what to say, I let my hand slide from his hair to his cheek. His gaze held mine for the longest moment. The urge to put my mouth to his was strong, but this was not the time nor place. I gave his scruffy face a soft pat, then let my head loll back to the rest.
The belt snugged around me, then the door closed. I snuck a peek at the gang of street rats, as Butch called himself. So young, so full of potential, yet denied so many things based on their skin color and where they were born.
“Try not to pay much mind to the smell,” Butch said when he slid behind the wheel. “You okay? Need more aspirin?”
“I just took two. I’m fine.” I looked from the teenagers milling around the shop to Butch. “Were you one of those ruffians?”
He cranked the engine over. A blast of hot air thick with mouse urine blew into my face. “Yeah, that was me. Long time ago. Jimmy’s a good guy.”
“Jimmy runs a chop shop,” I reminded him.
“Well, yeah, but he teaches them kids stuff on the side. How to work on cars, balance books. Lots of them go get jobs in other garages. Percentage is low, but some do. And that’s one kid out of poverty.”
“Hmmm.” I glanced back at the pack of wild things once more before we rattled out of the parking area and into traffic. “I do know what it is like to be poor, hungry, and see no way out but engaging in illegal activities.”
“It ain’t black and white on the southside, baby.”
“Nor in Lafitte.”
The rest of the ride was subdued, each of us lost in our own thoughts as we tried to deal with the pain we were in. Every time I closed my eyes, Butch would begin talking. We stopped at an ATM and then at a small drugstore for bandages and more OTC pain meds. As soon as we began rolling, Butch started talking again. I found his voice soothing, and soon I drifted off, coming awake with a start when we eased up to the first security station on the perimeter of Blue Moon Propulsion and Aerospace Systems. I must confess that once we’d cleared all three check stations, my bubbling anxiety did lower greatly.
“Are we going to a bunker of some sort?” I asked, glancing at the glass-sided buildings we were passing. It still was hard for me to truly wrap my mind around the fact that our darling Shin held the heart of the man who owned all of this. A Cinderella story come to life, complete with a wicked and vile villain. Thank the Lord Carlotta was not anyone’s godmother, although aunt by marriage was probably close enough to count.
“No bunker, just some swanky ass offices. But there’s food and showers. We’ll get some clothes for you, something sturdy, and then we’ll hunker down and plan what we’re going to do next.” He looked from the roadway to me. “Me and Ian, we got this.”
He was so earnest, and so I merely nodded and prayed.