If The Shoe Fits... Ch. 5

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If The Shoe Fits...
Chapter 5. ALEJANDRO

“Why did you all ignore me before when I was asking for help? I thought it was because you didn’t speak any English but clearly that’s not the case.”

“Oh don’t act so innocent. You come into the barrio, a man dressing like a girl, and expect people to talk to you. Jose thought you were like a crazy serial killer from Silence of the Lambs.”

“I’m not ‘dressing like a girl,’ I’m wearing pants and a hoodie!”

“You dress like my little sister and act like a puta.” I shot him a scornful look. “See?”

“Could we just focus on the task at hand please.”

.
.
.

I crumpled the note into a ball and took Lara’s car keys from the table. Aside from a cold spot of drool and a headache the size of California, it was all she’d left me with before she’d run off to class. On my way out I grabbed a pair of big dark shades off the counter and put them on to shield me from the intense light of the waking world, afraid that any contact between the light and my eyes would shatter me.

Lara’s Prius lurched out of the parking lot, starting and stopping at the corner of Welsh and Union Ave. as if reflecting my own reluctance to leave for Slatesville. Or maybe the hybrid car was having a bout of hiccups after a night of heavy electric drinking? The view through the back window was cluttered by a frontline of stuffed critters, tattered and faded by the sun, that had been transplanted from her old VW bug and, no doubt, longed for death’s sweet release. I was tempted. I looked at Lara’s car as I do the unfortunate canine victims of a pet obsessed owner who insists on taking a creature as noble and perfect as a dog and making them into a foofy joke. I hope no one I know sees me driving this.

It took an hour and half but I finally saw the signs for the Slatesville exit which had been playfully spray-painted to read Slutsville. Hey, at least it was truth in advertising. Lord knows, the slate quarries, factories or whatever they were, had all been shut long ago when they switched from trains to trucks for shipping. About all that remained in the gutted modern day Slatesville was a busted VFW Hall and several exotic dance clubs. The only other time I had ever been to Slatesville was when my school bus had passed it on a field trip to the Kendall Museum when I was ten. Imagine our wide eyes glittering innocently as we stared out that dirty window onto a world we had, until then, been mostly sheltered from.

As I drove through what used to be a bustling city center I tried in vain to imagine the crumbling buildings and broken sidewalks as they once were. My mind dressed the wandering crack hos in the precious period attire of a beggar and the townspeople as lords and ladies. That’s when my GPS delivered me some bad news: “Signal Lost,” it said with snarky British flair. Seth was somewhere within a 6 block radius of me but without my satellite tracking I was completely lost. Doomed to roam this wasteland with only an inch of glass between me and the desperation. I took several deep breaths and pulled into a gas station, foolishly assuming that “professionals” were more likely to help me out in this situation. I spotted the least tattooed and youngest of the six guys standing around the station in various poses of unwork and approached him cautiously.

“Excuse me?”

I was ignored.

“I’m sorry to bother you but...”

I was doubly ignored.

“OK. Thanks for the help.” I pointed toward the Jesus statuette with my delicate manicured finger which stood in strong contrast to the gruff workman like hands of the attendants, “I wonder what Jesus would do? He’d probably just ignore a person who needs help. That’s what he was all about right?”

As I began walking away I heard someone cough behind me.

When I turned back towards the group the oldest, largest and most heavily tattooed of them spoke to me, “Wait. What do you want?” Not only did he look like Danny Trejo’s twin brother, he sounded like him too.

I turned on the buttery gratitude and played up my lost puppy looks. “I am trying to get to 44 Oswald St...”

The old latino man smiled to himself his wrinkles folding up like sandpaper origami. “Take a right on to this street in front here and turn left at the first light.”

“But won’t that put me back on the highway?”

“Exactly.” He laughed. “Oswald St is no place for you. Better you go home.”

“Please. My little brother is there staying with some friends.”

“Hah! No one is friends out there, muchacha.” I noticed that he called me muchacha but there was no possibility that I was passing for a girl without makeup and with morning stubble. Clearly, he was making fun of me but since he was the kindest person I’d encountered so far in Slatesville, I decided to let him call me whatever he preferred.

“I have to get him out of there.” I reached into my pocket and feigned pulling out my wallet. He put his hand gently over mine and shook his head.

“It’s very dangerous for someone like you.” Like me? A white person?

“Why is it so dangerous?”

“Stop asking questions. You really want to go there. You listen well. Get your brother and go. Don’t look around. Go to the grey house with the green welcome mat. Don’t go near any other house and stop looking so lost. Rodrigo will go with you.” The old man called over the most muscular of the men who looked none to pleased to hear the name of the destination, but seemed to stubbornly agree to follow the older man’s orders. I wasn’t exactly down for riding with Muscles by myself.

“Muchas gracias! Thank you so much. You don’t know how much this means to me.” I am going to kill Seth when I get my hands on him and then I’m going to ship him back to Mom and Dad in little tiny pieces. What exactly was my little brother mixed up in?

The old man turned off his kindness and waved my gratitude off. He was probably hedging his bets that I would come out of this in one piece. No sense wasting emotional currency on a 20 to 1 chance.

I followed the big guy back to my car but just as I was about to open the driver’s side door, he pushed me aside. For the briefest of moments I thought I was about to be carjacked in the middle of a gas station parking lot by the people working at the gas station themselves. It made no sense but fear is seldom logical. Muscles instead opened the door for me. I thanked him and slid into the car. He joined me and then we drove down a series of identical streets some of which ended abruptly others which seemed to stretch on forever. This whole time he sat silently staring forward giving me one word directions seconds before I was required to turn. We missed a turn up Jefferson St.

“I said turn left.” He was angry.

“You know? This would work a lot better if you told me to turn, like, before the turn instead of after. Just some constructive criticism.”

“If you like, I can get out now and you can find your own way there.” He reached for the door but his intended drama fell flat when he found the doors locked. “Why did you lock the door?”

“Why did you all ignore me before when I was asking for help? I thought it was because you didn’t speak any English but clearly that’s not the case.”

“Oh don’t act so innocent. You come into the barrio, a man dressing like a girl, and expect people to talk to you. Jose thought you were like a crazy serial killer from Silence of the Lambs.”

“I’m not ‘dressing like a girl,’ I’m wearing pants and a hoodie!”

“You dress like my little sister and act like a puta.” I shot him a scornful look. “See?”

“Could we just focus on the task at hand please.”

Silence prevailed as we floated past row after row of shuttered windows and boarded up doors.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Is it about what street to turn down next, ‘cause that’s all I want to hear.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that you will not get into heaven?”

...

“OK recommence the ignoring please. I’ve had enough of this shit.”

“The Mexican cardinal once said...” I swung the wheel wildly to the side and bumped up against the curb. Muscles was caught unaware. His shaved head’s momentum was stopped by the car’s roof.

“I don’t care what the stupid fucking Mexican cardinal said. Even suggesting that someone might not achieve spiritual reward because of who they choose to love or how they choose to dress is goddamn shitty. He’s a shitty fucking person.” I tried the auto unlock for the passenger-side door but nothing happened, so I reached across the meathead in my passenger seat and awkwardly unlocked the door myself. “Get out of my car.” In my rage I had somehow taken ownership of this horrible tacky vehicle.

“Maybe you should calm down.”

“I said get out!”

The big lug folded his arms and settled into his seat with a smile. I reached across to open his door but as I did so, Rodrigo grabbed me around the waist, pulled me over his knee and gave me two quick smacks on my ass. You could have lit a romantic dinner for two with my crimson embarrassment.

“The fuck?” I pushed off of him, flailing like one of those inflatable air dancing tubemen with the dancing limbs.

“For your blasphemy.” I sat there at a complete loss. It wasn’t really a time to cry, but I couldn’t laugh either. Rodrigo laughed heartily like I imagine Chef Boyardee must laugh. Things were getting strange. “Go up this street two blocks and make a left down that alley. We’re almost there.”

“Are you fucking with me?”

Rodrigo gave me one of those playboy millionaire smiles, as if fucking with me was just a part of his to do list on his way to earning another cool million. It faded as he said, “I have business there.”

I smacked him with the palm of my hand. If I was gonna be a bitch, I might as well take advantage of the school yard rules which made hitting me unbecoming of a gentlemen. Not to mention it was a very un-Christian thing to do.

Miraculously, we were laughing about earlier when we pulled into the dark alley behind the Joy Palace (actually Chinese Take-Out) and the Happy Chicken (actually a porn store). All of a sudden the volume knob was turned down -only the skittering of some scavenging creature of the dark made sound.

I looked to my physically imposing bodyguard who had apparently agreed to come with me to get a nice good laugh out of the experience. I was not instilled with confidence that I’d come out the other side with my face in one piece. I heard the thumping of a massive bass. It was every hiphop song ever made, shaking the foundations of the deteriorating concrete buildings on either side of us. As we came out of the skinny alley we arrived at a block of houses that looked like they could have been on the cover of Better Homes and Garden. Sun-dappled suburban homes with perfectly manicured lawns invited us into their brightly painted front doors.

Rodrigo looked at me expectantly. “This is the part in my fantasy where you look up all innocent like and say ‘Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“...No. And you ain’t no Toto.”

The source of the bumping music presented itself almost immediately. It was a tricked out van, with giant subwoofers in the back and probably a bed. A tall skinny white guy in a wife beater with what looked like a, tasteful, diamond encrusted Yoshi (from Super Mario Bros.) around his neck on a thick gold chain, walked over to our car window. He knocked politely with three firm raps.

The windows on Lara’s Prius rolled down slowly, elegantly and ever so ladylike. I felt the muscles on my face peel back in response to the thundering bass that now assaulted me. The guy reached into his pocket and used a remote to turn down the music. A remote?!

“Hi, I’m... “ Avon calling. Need any beard remover?

“You gotta turn around, miss...,” Dim Shady, took a look in the car to check me out, “...Uh, sir. Only deliveries through the back way.” The polite way he spoke was more hotel concierge than back alley thug.

“I’m just here to pick up my little bro...”

“I said, turn this tree-hugging piece of shit around or I’ll walk back over to my car and find some motivation in a caliber you won’t like.” Now he was a mean butler.

Muscles leaned across me and covered my mouth with his sweaty palm.

“Paulie, is that any way to talk to a lady?”

“What lady there ain’t no fucking... “ Dim Shady did a double take and spun around to look for the hidden camera, illusions of politeness were gone. “Hot Rod? No fucking way! Did I just get punk’d. It’s been forever, homes.” The two exchanged some complicated wrist elbow handshake fist bump which I could have described better if it hadn’t nudged me in the face several times. I haven’t seen you since...”

“Juvie,” said ‘Hot Rod’ like a man with deep regrets... probably about being sent to juvenile detention.

“Juvie. Yeah. Shit man.”

“Shit man. I heard you got picked up for trafficking?” Things were, as the kids say, getting real.

“I got off. Evidence up and vanished.” Paulie did a creepy puff of smoke gesture with his hands, like an urban magician.

“Tony?”

“He’s a goddamn miracle worker and it doesn’t hurt none that he was fucking the arresting officer’s niece at the time.” I tried and failed to join the manly laughter that followed that sweet bon mot. I bit into ‘Hot Rod’s hand hoping to get out of this den of criminals with my brother before they decided he was the perfect patsy to take the fall for their next heist. In my mind they were all jewel thieves. It was better not to think about the drugs at all.

“Listen, man we gotta catch up, bro, but I’m taking Dorothy here to find her little brother.”

“Oh, Alright...” Paulie seemed hurt that his trip down criminal memory lane was stopped short.

“He’s at ...um, 44 Oswald.”

“For real? That’s where you’re going?” Paulie shook his head.

“Yup.”

“She know you’re coming?”

“Nope.”

“Well, good luck with that, bro.”

I rolled up the window and we drove away leaving Paulie to his alley guarding.

“What’s going on? Who’s she?”

“Nothing. Let’s go.”

I took a look back in the rearview to make sure Paulie was out of earshot before I said, “Guess, he had to get back to the Mushroom Kingdom.” Rodrigo shrugged. “You know ‘cause he, like, had the Yoshi necklace. What? You didn’t play Mario?”

“I played Mario.” This guy annoyed me.

“Good. I’m glad we could have this chat.”

...

When we got out of the car I didn’t know how to act. Was I supposed to be afraid of Wisteria Lane or the threat of guns which I have yet to see? I decided to keep my head down like a nun and follow as closely behind Rodrigo as I could, maybe hide in his shadow. He came to a sudden stop causing me to bump into him. My heart leapt.

He turned his head slightly and spoke to me cartoonishly through the side of his mouth, “Maybe you could, you know, act normally for five minutes.”

“Yeah.” I took a deep breath. “I can do that.” I had this feeling that we were being watched but not in a man-peering-through-binoculars way, like in a we-stepped-onto-the-set-of-a-sitcom-and-something-ridiculous-is-about-to-happen kind of way. We continued, at our best approximation of normalcy, up the stone walkway toward the grey house with the green welcome mat. I could see beads of sweat starting to form on the Rodrigo’s forehead.

We stood there on that front porch in front of the red door that had looked so much like candy from far away but now looked rusty and blood like up close, and then we stood there some more.

I didn’t know what to do. Rodrigo wasn’t making any moves. As best as I could figure this some part of the ritual but then the big lug turned around patted me on the shoulder and started walking away.

“Hey! Where are you going?” I gave chase.

“I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean you can’t do this,” all of a sudden I had an idea, “does this have something to do with that she Paulie mentioned?”

“No,” said a sing-songey voice dripping with attitude from directly behind me, “it has to do with me.”

All 200 muscular pounds of Rodrigo shrank away like a scolded bulldog in the face of this tiny olive skinned girl in Juicy pajama pants and flip flops standing on the steps to the house.

“Maria.” He said it like a man who has just seen the face of his killer and is staring down the barrel of a gun. Maria had no gun, she was eating a yogurt.

“Oh, that’s so sweet. You remembered my name.”

“Maria,” Rodrigo tried again.

“And look, cariá±o, you brought your new toy to show off.” She flung her yogurt at me, splashing some on my shoes.

“Maria, I meant to call.”

“Oh yeah. You meant to call? You meant to but on the way to the phone you picked up some stuck up white bitch... ” Maria stopped eating her yogurt and took a closer look at me. The illusion was broken, yet again. “What the fuck is this?”

“I can explain.” Could I? “This is all just a misunderstand... ”

“I am not talking to you.” Her hand thrust in my face stopped my words from forming. This was turning into a goddamn telenovela. Of all the gas stations in Slatesville... “Rodrigo? Are you gay now?” That impassioned heartbroken inquiry delivered with just the right amount of daytime TV panache seemed to slap Rodrigo back to his normal manly self.

“What!? You think me and this...? Are you fucking crazy, woman?” There was a rapid exchange in Spanish that my limited vocab couldn’t follow and then the two of them were laughing. Hey, give this thirty minutes in a professional beauty salon and I’ll give shortstuff here a run for her money.

“So why did you come here?”

“I’m just a good Samaritan. I’m taking him to pickup his brother,” Rodrigo turned to me, “What’s your brother’s name, amigo?”

“Seth.”

“Seth,” Rodrigo confirmed.

“Seth,” Maria contemplated. Let’s all say it together now. Seth. “That must be Alejandro’s friend. Come inside. I’ll get him and then we're going to talk.”

The front parlor of the house was immaculately clean with a splashy mural of farmland and latino day laborers decorating the right side wall. The foyer opened up into a large living room which was markedly less immaculate and was decorated only by a chaos ring of bodies that littered the couches like the aftermath of a bomb. Most of them looked around Seth’s age though some of the girls were wearing such dramatic makeup that they appeared older than I was. Maria yelled something at the mass of bodies in a variation of Spanish and whacked a boy in a bright purple pimp shirt with the remote control to the TV before departing up the stairs.

“That’s Maria’s youngest brother, Eduardo,” Rodrigo informed me. Eduardo was licking whipped cream off some poor unconscious girl’s exposed chest as her friend playfully chastised him.

“And how old is he?” Twelve going on fifty?

“He’s thirteen.”

“Huh. He seems like a fine, and upstanding...”

“He’s a cocky little shit.”

“Yes.”

"They all think they are gangsters here."

Starting to feel a sense of comraderie with Rodrigo, I tried to make small talk, “So I take it Maria’s your ex?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Fair enough.” There was a lot of that going around. Lara had left me a note this morning that I refused to think about.

“You got a, uh, special friend?”

“Girlfriend," I specified, "And no. Not really. Maybe. I dunno. It’s complicated.” I wish it wasn’t. The words, ‘Not going to work out’ scrolled past on the news ticker in my mind.

“Fair enough.”

“What happened between you and Maria... and where the hell are we? I was expecting some abandoned meth lab or something.” I really was more interested in the latter question and was hoping the relationship talk would make a natural segue into the other more important stuff.

“It’s hard to explain. We call this neighborhood ‘The Untouchables’ because it is home to the families of the Saldana Cartel. Maria is Luis Saldana’s daughter,” Did I really want to know more? “and the mother of my child.”

“Your child?” It was difficult to imagine him as a father though his communication skills, or lack there of, reminded me of mine.

“Yes, my three year old son.” He wrung his hands in an angry manner when talking about his son. It was not the mannerisms I associated with a man discussing his offspring.

“Well, where is he and why did Maria act like she hasn’t seen you in...”

“Because the world is not Barbie’s playset, OK? When she was pregnant with our child, I was at the Berk Correctional Home for Boys because if I didn’t tell the police that those drugs were mine, her older brother was going to go to jail. I was in love. When I got out, her father wanted me to join the family and when I refused Luis beat the shit out of me and told me never to come back again.” Rodrigo pounded at the door jamb with a balled up fist.

“But... you’re here now.”

“I am.”

“Isn’t that kind of a, I dunno, bad idea?” I was the only sane person in the world.

“God sent me a sign. Dressed like my little sister.” He grinned warmly at me in that annoying way that people do when they acknowledge the mysterious ways of God or when they think they have a winning lottery ticket. “I want to see my son.”
I had to admit. The idea of me as an agent of heaven was just stupid enough to make me forget about the fact that I was in the home of a notorious drug kingpin but not stupid enough to make me forget that I was here with a man who was even less welcome than I.

Maria re-emerged from the top of the stairs with a slightly crumpled, definitely stoned, possibly still drunk, soulpatch sporting version of my little brother. He was wearing a backpack with his arms through both shoulder straps like a boy scout.

Some part of me wanted to yell out his name and fly up the stairs two at a time so I could hug him sooner but there was another more insistent part of me that wanted to disembowel him. I settled for a scowl.

“Is this yours?” Maria asked flatly.

“Maybe? The soulpatch is throwing me.” I could smell the alcohol and pot on the kid from five feet away. Where were my mom and dad in any of this? It seemed odd that they had yet to even call me to ask about Seth. “Why does he smell like he bathed in puke?”

“He probably did.” Maria had pinched Seth by the shirt and was leading him around like she was carrying a dirty rag, looking for somewhere to dispose of it. She passed him to me instead.

“Christ.” I surveyed the damage to my little bro. This was the clear signs of a bender. He made my hangover look like a sneeze at Sunday mass. “Is this all your stuff?”

Seth looked up at me through bleary eyes and deadpanned, “Who the fuck are you?”
I took off my sunglasses and glowered at him.

“Your brother, dumbass.” I turned to Maria for sympathy. "Is this all his stuff?"

"I don't know."

“My brother’s not a girl.” There was an unvocalized, ‘show’s how much you know’ at the end of his statement. He looked around like he was calling for help, “My brother’s not a girl!” There was a comical panic in his trembling voice. I don’t know what he was on, but he was trippin’ big.

A barechested boy emerged from the living room drinking milk straight from the carton. His pants were hanging around his ass and his boxers were peeking up through. The kid couldn’t have been much older than Seth but he was ripped —six pack and all. “No, he’s just a homo.”

“Don’t call my brother a homo, Alejandro!” It was sweet that the kid stuck up for me. Sweet and very stupid.

“What are you gonna do about it, you fucking junkie?” Alejandro puffed up his chest and made his pecs do a back and forth dance that was gayer looking than anything I’d done in the last month. He gave Seth a shove which knocked him into a coat rack that brought the whole thing crashing down on him. “Yo, you just reminded me why I hang out with you. You’re like my own personal clown.” The girls in the room who no doubt wanted to take a ride on Alejandro’s disco stick, offered him laughter to feed his ego. Seth started up but I grabbed him before he could do something really stupid.

"Alejandro... hey, we have the same name," Now, I don’t know why I did what I did. Why I always do what I do. Maybe I have a pathological need to stick my face in front of people who have no qualms about punching it? I guess sweet and stupid runs in the family. I knocked the milk out of the kid’s hands and it spilled all down his front. He looked like he wet himself. “Don’t drink from the carton. It’s a filthy habit.” Ironic because I did that only last week.

The room went silent just long enough for us to hear the muffled thump of Paulie’s bass from outside.

I turned to make sure Rodrigo had my back on this, but he was nowhere to be found. Oh right. That whole, "let me see my son" business. Probably should have thought of that before pissing on the hornet's nest.



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