Big red tiquila - rick riordan

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Big Red Tiquila

Rick Riordan1997

DedicationToHaley Riordan,bienvenidoanda good beginning

1

"Who?" said the man occupying my newapartment.

"Tres Navarre," I said.

I pressed the lease agreement against the screen dooragain so he could see. It was about a hundred degrees on the frontporch of the small in-law apartment. The air-conditioning from insidewas bleeding through the screen door and evaporating on my face.Somehow that just made it seem hotter.

The man inside my apartment glanced at the paper,then squinted at me like I was some bizarre piece of modern art.Through the metal screen he looked even uglier than he probablywas—heavyset, about forty, crew cut, features all pinched towardthe center of his face. He was bare-chested and wore the kind ofthick polyester gym shorts only P.E. coaches wear. Use small words, Ithought.

"I rented this apartment for July fifteenth. Youwere supposed to move out by then. It’s July twenty-fourth."

No signs of remorse from the coach. He looked backover his shoulder, distracted by a double play on the TV. He lookedat me again, now slightly annoyed.

“Look, asshole," he said. "I told Gary Ineeded a few extra weeks. My transfer hasn’t come through yet,okay? Maybe August you can have it."

We stared at each other. In the pecan tree next tothe steps a few thousand cicadas decided to start their metallicchirping. I looked back at the cabby who was still waiting at thecurb, happily reading his TV Guide while the meter ran. Then I turnedback to the coach and smiled-friendly, diplomatic.

"Well," I said, "I tell you what. I’vegot the moving van coming here tomorrow from California. That meansyou’ve got to be out of here today. Since you’ve had a free weekon my tab already, I figure I can give you an extra hour or so. I’mgoing to get my bags out of the cab, then when I come back you canlet me in and start packing."

If it was possible for his eyes to squint any closertogether, they did. "What the fuck—"

I turned my back on him and went out to the cab. Ihadn’t brought much with me on the plane-one bag for clothes andone for books, plus Robert Johnson in his carrying cage. I collectedmy things, asked the cabby to wait, then walked back up the sidewalk.Pecans crunched under my feet. Robert Johnson was silent, stilldisoriented from his traumatic flight.

The house didn’t look much better on a second take.Like most of the other sleeping giants on Queen Anne Street, Number90 had two stories, an ancient green-shingled roof, bare wood sidingwhere the white paint had peeled away, a huge screened-in-front porchsagging under tons of red bougainvillea. The right side of thebuilding, where the in-law’s smaller porch stuck out, had shiftedon its foundations and now drooped down and backward, as if that halfof the house ad suffered a stroke.

The coach had opened the door for me. In fact he wasstanding in it now, smiling, holding a baseball bat.

"I said August, asshole," he told me.

I set my bags and Robert Johnson’s cage down on thebottom step. The coach smiled like you might at a dirty joke. One ofhis front teeth was two different colors.

"You ever try dental picks?" I said.

He developed a few new creases on his forehead.

“What—?"

“Never mind, " I said. "You got movingboxes or you just want to put your stuff in Hefty bags? You strike meas a Hefty-bag man."

“Fuck you."

I smiled and walked up the steps.

The porch was way too narrow to swing a bat, but hedid his best to butt me in the chest with it. I moved sideways andstepped in next to him, grabbing his wrist. If you apply pressurecorrectly, you can use thenei guanpoint, just above the wrist joint, in place of CPR to stimulate theheart. One of the reasons Chinese grandmothers wear those long pinsin their hair, in fact, is to prick theneiguanin case someone in the family has aheart attack. Apply pressure a little harder, and it sends a chargethrough the nervous system that is pretty unpleasant.

The coach’s face turned red; his pinched featuresloosened up in shock. The bat clattered down the steps. As he doubledover, clutching his arm, I pushed I through the door.

The TV was still going in the main room—a washed-upSaturday Night Live comedian was guzzling a light beer, surrounded byfive or six cheerleaders. Nothing else in the room except a mattressand a pile of clothes in the corner and a tattered easy chair. On thekitchen counter there was a mound of old dishes and fast-foodcartons. The smell was somewhere between fried meat and sour wetlaundry.

"You’ve done wonders with the place," Isaid. “I can see why-"

When I turned around the coach was standing behind meand his fist was a few inches from my face, coming in for a landing.

I twisted out of its way and pushed down on his wristwith one hand. With the other hand I slammed up on the elbow, bendingthe joint the wrong way. I’m sure I didn’t break it, but I’mpretty sure it hurt like hell anyway. The coach fell down on thekitchen floor and I went to check out the bathroom. A toothbrush, onetowel, the new Penthouse on the toilet tank. All the comforts ofhome.

It took about fifteen minutes to find a roll ofgarbage bags and stuff the coach’s things into them.

"You broke my arm," he told me. He wasstill sitting on the kitchen floor, with his eyes tightly closed. Iunplugged the TV and put it outside.

"Some people like ice for a joint problem likethat," I told him, moving out the chair. “I think it’sbetter if I you use a hot-water bottle. Keep it warm for a while. Twodays from now you won’t feel anything."

He told me he’d sue, I think. He told me a lot ofthings, but I wasn’t listening much anymore. I was tired, it washot, and I was starting to remember why I’d stayed away from SanAntonio for so many years. The coach was in enough pain not to fightmuch as I tucked him into the cab with most of his stuff and paid thecabby to take him to a motel. Leaving the TV and easy chair in thefront yard, I brought my things inside and shut the door behind me.

Robert Johnson slunk out of his cage cautiously whenI opened it. His black fur was slicked the wrong way on one side andhis yellow eyes were wide. He wobbled slightly getting back his landlegs. I knew how he felt. He sniffed the carpet, then looked at mewith total disdain.

"Row," he said.

"Welcome home," I said. 

2

"Was fixing to evict him one of these days,"Gary Hales mumbled.

My new landlord didn’t seem too concerned about mydisagreement with the former tenant. Gary Hales didn’t seem tooconcerned about anything. Gary was an anemic watercolor of a man. Hiseyes, voice, and mouth were all soft and liquid, his skin awashed-out blue that matched his guayabera shirt. I got the feelinghe might just dilute down to nothing if he I got caught in a goodrain.

He stared at our finalized lease as if he were tryingto remember what it was. Then he read it one more time, his lipsmoving, his shaky hand following each line with the tip of a blackpen. He got stuck on the signature line. He frowned. “Jackson?"

"Legally," I told him. "Tres, as inthe Third. Usually I go by that, unless you’re my mother and you’remad at me, in which case it’s Jackson."

Gary stared at me.

“Or occasionally ‘Asshole,’ " I offered.

Gary’s pale eyes had started to glaze over. Ithought I’d probably lost him after "legally," but hesurprised me.

"Jackson Navarre," he said slowly. "Likethat sheriff that got kilt?"

I took the lease out of Gary’s hand and folded itup. "Yeah," I said. “Like that."

Then the wall started ringing. Gary’s eyes floatedover listlessly to where the sound had come from. I waited for anexplanation.

"She axed me for the number here," he said,like he was reminding himself about it. "Told her I’d changethe name over to you t’morrow."

He shuffled across the room and pulled a built-inironing board out from the living—room wall. In the alcove behindit was an old black rotary phone.

I picked it up on the fourth ring and said: “Mother,you’re unbelievable."

She sighed loudly into the receiver, a satisfied kindof sound.

"Just an old beau at Southwestern Bell, honey.Now when are you coming over?"

I thought about it. The prospect wasn’t pleasantafter the day I’d had. On the other hand, I needed transportation.

"Maybe this evening. I’ll need to borrow theVW if you’ve still got it. "

“It’s been sitting in my garage for ten years,"she said. "You think it’ll run you’re welcome to it. Iexpect you’ll be visiting Lillian tonight?"

In the background at my mother’s house I heard thesound of a pool cue breaking a setup. Somebody laughed.

"Mother—"

"All right, I didn’t ask. We’ll see youlater on, dear."

After Gary had shuffled back over to the main part ofthe house, I checked my watch. Three o’clock San Francisco time.Even on Saturday afternoon there was still a good chance I couldreach Maia Lee at Terrence & Goldman.

No such luck. When her voice mail got throughexplaining to me what “regular business hours" meant, I leftmy new number, then held the line for a second longer, thinking aboutwhat to say. I could still see Maia’s face the way it looked thismorning at five when she dropped me off at SFO—smiling, a sisterlykiss, someone polite whom I didn’t recognize. I hung up the phone.

I found some vinegar and baking soda in the pantryand spent an hour cleaning away the sights and smells of the formertenant from the bathroom while Robert Johnson practiced climbing theshower curtain.

A little before sunset somebody knocked on my door.

“Mother," I grumbled to myself. Then I lookedout the window and saw it wasn’t quite that bad—just a couple ofuniformed cops leaning against their unit in the driveway, waiting. Iopened the front door and saw the second ugliest face I’d seenthrough my screen door so far today.

"You know," the man croaked, "somebodyjust handed me this complaint from one Bob Langston of 90 QueenAnne’s Street. Guy’s a G-7 at Fort Sam, no less. Assault, itsays. Trespassing, it says. Langston claims some maniac named Navarretried to karate him to death, for Christ’s sake."

I was surprised how much he’d changed. His cheekshad hollowed out like craters and he’d gone bald to the point wherehe had to comb a greasy flap of side hair over the top just to keepup appearances. About the only things he had more of were stomach andmustache. The former covered his twenty-pound belt buckle. The lattercovered his mouth almost down to his double chins. I remember as akid wondering how he lit his cigarettes without setting his face onfire.

"Jay Rivas," I said.

Maybe he smiled. There was no way to tell under thewhiskers. Somehow he located his lips with a cigarette and took along drag.

"So you know what I tell the guys?" Rivasasked. "I say no way. No way could I be so lucky as to haveJackson Navarre’s baby boy back in town from San Fag-cisco to bringsunlight into my dreary life. That’s what I tell them."

"It wastai chi chuan,Jay, not karate. Purely defensive."

"What the fuck, kid, " he said, leaning hishand against the door frame. "You just aboutkimcheedthis guy’s arm off. Give me a reason I shouldn’t treat you tosome free accommodations at the County Annex tonight. "

I referred him to Gary Hales’s and my leaseagreement, then told him about Mr. Langston’s less-than-warmreception. Rivas seemed unimpressed.

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