Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Outsider - Joseph Grant

The thinly-painted veil of office towers that rose up as Downtown Los Angeles created a cheap backdrop against the splendor of the gray snow-peaked San Gabriel Mountains. Out here, on the perimeter, there were no Starbucks, there was no Blockbuster Video. The only brand names that were given any credit on the street went by the names of PPK, Beretta and Bryco 9mm.

The rest did not exist, as the real world did not exist. The rules did not apply. This is not to say there were no rules, for there were many. It was just that the rules which governed that gleaming society in the distance had been abandoned long ago, its rules and replaced by thug law.

And in that midst, one did not find too many Rolls Royce’s driving through the hood. Only the entrepreneurial drug dealer or the cautious pimp who did spend money on keeping his employees nartcotically-inclined could afford such a sweet ride. The only sure way most people in this area got their first ride in a big, fancy car was usually also their last ride on the way to the cemetery.

The Rolls turned conspicuously around the block onto Central from Manchester. The area had never held much promise, it had been lower working class and some of it even run down as far back as people could remember and in this area, people didn’t live to their life expectancies. If people lived life it was usually behind bars. But no one could ever recall seeing a brand new Rolls in this neck of the hoods.

Behind the wheel, the very nervous white man scanned the street from side to side. Dale Pravitt was an attorney who worked on the outskirts of the law, though never like this. The fact that he was out here, reflected the desperation to which he had succumbed and in desperate times, men are driven to attempt desperate resolutions, even if in an expensive European auto.

The scent of oregano filled the air as he drove past East L.A. Spices warehouse. As he drove on, he entered a foreign world where those who lived here spoke in a tongue he did not freely understand. He caught the sight of newspaper hung delicately over an apartment balcony. On top of the newspaper lay metallic looking fresh fish and next to the fish lay sausage he thought but which was in reality, chorizo.

After a few blocks there was nothing in the area that would accommodate a man, unless that man was looking to buy some rock, score some cheap ass or get rid of something hot.

It amazed him that here it was; nine o’clock on a Monday morning and no one was anywhere to be found. A few black men were hanging out on a porch of a trashed yellow house. He shook his head in disbelief as he cruised down Hooper, as he passed them. All of the young men had cans of beer which they swigged from brown paper bags. They watched him closely as he rolled slowly by. As Pravitt drove a few blocks deeper, any resemblance to his definition of normalcy faded quickly in his rear-view mirror.

“Homies ‘R’ Us” read painted store sign on his left and Pravitt shuddered. In Old-English style block letters, the rest of the sign bore the entreaty: “Remember your homie in prison.” No, Pravitt, thought, this was definitely not Beverly Hills as he turned his Rolls around and headed west. He loathed people he thought less than him and wondered what a person like him, was doing in a society to which he did not belong, for he was one of the powerful, not an ignoble outsider.

His eyes darted left and right for a hardware store. His Onstar had informed him of a small satellite store in the area. He didn’t know where to look, but was certain that once he located a Home and Garden he would find what he was looking for.

True to his vision, he spotted a dirty-looking H&G and pulled into the lot. Outside was the usual white do-it-yourself sheds, chained to the ground, two of which had been tagged by local gang members and had been set aside and not chained down. He smirked as he read the orange sign with the black magic marker upon it: “Special! Half off.”

To the left, behind the sheds underneath a hunter green canopy sat, stood, leaned and paced what he was looking for; day workers. Jornaleros.

“Excuse me.” Pravitt said he pushed down the button for the window and was met by a blast of furnace-like air. “Do any of you speak English?” He said as he strained over the passenger seat. No one said a word. They all just stared cautiously at the white man in the Rolls. “Um, hey…hola, yo hablo Englaise?” Nothing. He repeated himself. A few of the men snickered or just smiled. He had no idea he had just told them: “Hello, I speak English!”

“I speak English.” A large man in his thirties said, opening the crowd. “You don’t speak Spanish.”

“You do? Oh, that’s fantastic.” He beamed to no one.

“My name is Javier.” The man said. Pravitt ignored the gesture. “I speak English and that man over there, Juan, the guy in the blue shirt speaks English, but not as good as me.” He winked at the man.

“Well, that’s just fine.” Pravitt nodded. “What I need is some concrete work done at my house. I need a few good men.”

“When do you need us there, Señor?”

“Oh, on Thursday.” Pravitt said in an off-hand manner. “Can you make it?”

“Of course I can.” The large man nodded.

“What I mean is do you have any experience laying concrete and tile?”

“I worked the loading dock at Sears, JC Penney and a few other places.”

“Oh.” He frowned. “What I’m looking for is someone who knows concrete.”

“But I did spend last summer laying foundation for a slurry company. They worked on putting in the transformer pads for the schools.”

“Oh, okay. That’s fine, then.” Pravitt muttered in an uninterested manner. “That’s really not material to me. What I’m asking is…” He sighed and broke it down simply. “What I’m trying to get across…”

“I get what you’re saying, Señor. You want us to come by your house and pour some cement.”

“Right.” Pravitt nodded. “But I need it thick. The last guys I had do it for me did a lousy job and it cracked right down the middle.”

“I can assure you, Señor, we will do an excellent job. Juan over here worked in construction and Diego over there, too. You want me to bring them over so you can talk to them?”

"Hell no.” Pravitt chided him and turned cool. “What I mean to say is that I just need you and about six or seven guys at my house at eight a.m. sharp, Thursday.”

“Fine, Señor. My name is Javier.”

“Well, then Javier…we have a deal, then?”

“How much are you paying us, Señor?”

“Oh, yes.” Pravitt’s shoulders jiggled up and down in a bizarre contortion as he laughed. “The money…I will pay you and your men. I only need as I’ve said six or seven beside yourself, so I can pay you, let’s say…ten dollars an hour?”

“Ten dollars?” Javier’s brow furrowed. “These people are hard-working, el jeffe and will do an excellent job. Make it twelve, Señor, please. These men have families to support.”

Pravitt stroked his chin with his thumb and forefinger, his eyebrow raising in a cliché. “Eleven.”

“Twelve, jeffe.” Javier repeated. “And I get fifteen. You got a nice big car; you can afford it, jeffe.”

Pravitt eyed him cautiously and a smile slowly crept along his thin lips. “You drive a hard bargain, Javier. I can see you’re a businessman like myself.”

“Then, we have a deal, jeffe?”

“I think you’re getting a better part of the deal, but I like your style.” Pravitt held out his hand and bit his tongue. “The name’s Pravitt, not jeffe. I don’t even know nor do I want to know what that means!” he laughed. Javier espied Pravitt’s crooked smile. “Say it with me, Javier. Pravitt. Mr. Pravitt.”

“Prabbett.”

“No.” He said in a harsh tone. “Pravitt.” He said and fumbled with his wallet. “Here’s my card.” He said and flipped it at the man. “Learn it.”

“Deal, jeffe, deal.” Javier smiled in return and shook his hand. “One thing, jeffe.” He called out as Pravitt turned.

“Where do you live, cabron?”

Pravitt felt his face redden. “The most important part and I almost forgot, Javier.” He laughed at his own stupidity and shook his balding head. “You have my card. Call me the day of and I’ll bring my pick up.”

Javier looked at him in an odd manner and shrugged. “Cabron do not worry. You pay us, we work.”

“Make sure you work.” Pravitt said pointedly.

“Make sure you pay cabron.” Javier countered.

“Touché.” Pravitt nodded and rolled up his window. He sighed and put the air on
full-blast. It was too hot already and it wasn’t yet ten o’clock. The heat wave was
expected to last through the week until Sunday. Pravitt didn’t envy the man, he smiled to
himself and touched his cell phone.

“Honey?” He said broadly. “I got the workers, just like you asked for.”

“Oh that’s great.” A female voice on the other end of the line said. “Are they any good?”

“How in Christ would I know if they’re any good?”

“I don’t know.”

“They’re Mexican. They’re cheap labor. They’re day workers. They’ll do just fine.” He spoke as only a white man could speak and think nothing of it.

“I’m Mexican.” She pouted.

“No, you’re not.” Pravitt kidded her. “You’re a hot little Latina. There’s a difference.”

“How?”

“I don’t date Mexicans.” He laughed.

“Don’t be like that.”

“Oh, come on, Marisol. Be like what?”

“Be like that, just that.”

“You should talk. You’re the one with the Mexican gardener, telling me they’re the best because they work cheap.”

“Well, that’s different.” Marisol said.

“Uh-huh.” Pravitt answered. “You can be as racist as me but it’s okay because it’s your own people. In some ways that’s worse, you know.”

“Don’t start, Papi.”

“Let me go, I have to call the wife.”

“Call me back huh?”

“Ok, Marisol.”

“Hey, are we still going to do lunch?”

“Sure.”

“What do you feel like eating?”

“I feel like eating a little Mexican.” He flirted.

“I bet you do.” Marisol teased as he hung up. The phone beeped.

“Hey.” Pravitt sighed as he hit the call back number. Static interrupted the second ring.

“Hi, hon.” His wife said good-naturedly. “What’s new?”

“Oh, nothing.” He shrugged. “I’m on my way to a meeting.”

“You’re still at the office?” She asked.

“No.” He shook his head. “I just left.”

“Still on Wilshire?” She said blankly.

“No, I just turned off.” He lied. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“Hon, this is a company phone. I can’t do personal calls.”

“But you own the company.” She chided him. “Besides, you called me.”

“Well, yes, I saw you called, but I’m still accountable to the shareholders.”

“But I miss you, that’s all.”

“I know.” He agreed. “We’re going through a fiscally tough time right now. You know that.”

“Me and you are going through a tough time…you know that.” She reminded him.

“How can I forget you remind me about it every day?”

“Don’t start, huh, Dale? She said sadly. “I’m tired of it. I don’t see you anymore. I know you’re stressed about work and you’re going through a tough time there. It’s just all those late nights. I hardly see you anymore.”

Pravitt sighed. “I know and I promise I will make it up to you, I swear.”

“Okay.” Her voice smiled.

“I gotta go. Sorry. No personal calls, ya know. If you want to speak to me you call my personal cell.”

“I did.” She groused. “You have it turned off. I keep getting your voice mail.”

“Oh, okay.” He said and checked. “You are absolutely correct.” He said, eyeing a hot Latina shaking her ass as she walked down the street.

“May I call you on your cell?”

“Hon.” He said in a contemptuous tone. “I have to prepare for my meeting.”

“Right, your meeting.”

“Call you later on the way home.”

“Oh.”

“Love you.”

“Gotta go, hon.” He said and hit Marisol’s number.

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“I can’t talk right now.”

“Just a second.” He said.

“I can’t talk to you now. I will talk to you later.” Marisol said with her hand over her mouth.

“Oh, okay.” He said in a petulant voice. “Fine, talk to you later.” It confused him, as it was not like Marisol to behave in such a way. He hit the 105 Freeway and gunned it.

Days later, Pravitt found himself in the same area in the office of a rental van business. He rented the van assumed under a former employee’s I.D. and paid cash. It didn’t seem to bother the bored-looking cashier that his face did not match the photo nor the fact that he paid cash in a torn up neighborhood that should have been torn down decades before. The fact that the area had outlasted its worn welcome spoke volumes to him. The clerk was eager to get the money and didn’t bother to ask any question. “Money talks.” Pravitt said to himself as he strode triumphantly to Marisol’s car. “…and bullshit walks.”

“Excuse me?” She said, her face narrowing into a squint in the morning sun.

“Nothing.” He waved her off. “Look, I really appreciate your taking me here.”

“You take me to the most interesting places, Papi.” She said snootily.

“Chill-lax. You can go as soon as they bring the van out.” Pravitt said. Marisol had it extremely easy working for him. All of the beautiful women did, even Marisol wryly noticed. Pravitt had an inner belief that smart women of no immediate beauty came to work when they were expected with the rest of the workhorses. Beautiful women, on the other hand, came and went as they pleased. It was true in his company as many others. It was an unspoken tenet in male-owned companies, it seemed.

“That’s another thing I don’t understand.” She said while fixing her hair in the mirror.

“Your needing David Warren’s ID.” Marisol shrugged. “Why did you need his work ID? I mean, he doesn’t work there anymore.”

“Don’t worry about it, mi amor.” He smiled and shook his balding head.

“It’s probably illegal.” She reminded him. “You should be more careful, Dale.”

“It is illegal, baby. But I paid these people in cash and that takes care of the first problem.”

“All I’m saying is that you could get into trouble if anyone checks up on it.”

“No one’s going to get into trouble cos no one’s going to check. You know what your problem is, Marisol? You worry too much.”

“And you worry too little, Papi.”

Just as Pravitt was about to answer, the kid pulled the van onto the street, scraping the undercarriage of the fender.

Marisol shook her head as Pravitt went off as he walked towards the van, screaming: “I’m not going to pay for that! I’m not going to pay for that!”

“Ay, Papi!” She said, hitting her cheek with her hand and pulled away from the curb. She was headed home. It was almost 8a.m. on a Thursday. While others were busy sitting in traffic, Marisol would be driving against the flow. It was far too early for a young girl of Marisol’s beauty to be awake and going to work.

The ride in the van with the day workers went as quietly as Pravitt’s discomfort had ever wished. They all said little; he said nothing, except to point out the unspoken disparity between where he was presently and where he was going.

As Pravitt drove off the 101 and into the hills, the neighborhood grew decidedly richer and hidden behind large shrubs and front walls thick with ivy and the neighbors decidedly behind richer neurosis and even thicker prejudices.

“Now guys, you must keep the noise down. Mrs. Pravitt, my wife, is trying to sleep. You see, we had a party. She had too much to drink.”

“Si, jeffe.” Javier said. “Mira.” He started and then repeated in Spanish what Pravitt had told apparently only to him. Pravitt noticed the men shaking their heads in sleepy acknowledgment.

“Now, don’t forget our agreement, jeffe.” Javier said and leaned over to Pravitt.

Pravitt jerked and realized Javier was just trying to gain his accord. “What agreement?” He said pointedly.

“Jeffe, the agreement we had. You and me had a deal.”

“We did?” Pravitt looked at him cautiously. “Oh yeah, we did.”

“Twelve an hour for my men and fifteen for me, cabron!”

“Oh, yup.” He nodded. “I remember now. That’s fine.” He nodded his head as he drove up the circular driveway and put the van in park.

This is a nice place, jeffe.” Javier said. “Ay, chingada!”

Pravitt laughed and smacked the man on the back in an almost paternal gesture. “A lot of hard work, amigo, mucho trabajo.” He said and held his arm out. “Well, shall we get to work?”

“The words made Javier smile as he assembled his crew. The pendajo was not going to lift a finger, he knew, not so much as break a manicured nail or drop an ounce of sweat from his balls. His wife probably had them locked away in a brass box next to her, Javier laughed to himself.

“Cabron.” He called out. “Donde esta, uh, I mean, where’s the cement?”

Pravitt turned. Sweat beaded on his forehead. “I had the guys from Home and Garden bring it a few hours ago.”

This stuck Javier as odd. Maybe money changed people so they didn’t think right. Why wouldn’t he hire them, instead? While the money was good, he thought, shit this guy could have afforded more, he thought as he looked around the estate. He had only seen houses like on the tv novelas his wife watched. He wouldn’t tell her how loaded this guy was, he would only say he was luckier to get paid more than the other guys on the crew. Maybe if they did a good job, the guy would throw in another hour’s wage or two. Javier informed his crew of this as he instructed them as to their work load.

“Now, Javier.” Pravitt said in a smolder of cigarette smoke. “Please tell the guys I expect them to work, not to stand around.”

“Si, jeffe.” Javier nodded.

“I meant to ask you, Javier.” What is this term, jeffe? It doesn’t mean anything contemptuous does it?”

“Jeffe?”

“You know, it doesn’t mean anything bad or derogatory does it?”

“Oh, no cabron. No, no, it means boss.”

“Well, it better.” He said with a slow grin. “I hope it does.”

“Pendajo.”

“Exactly.” Pravitt smiled.

“Uh, vato?” Javier called out to him. “When do we take breaks?”

“Well, you guys are used to the sun, so I don’t know, every two hours?”

Pince pendajo.” Javier muttered under his breath.

“You’re welcome, Javier.” He called out over his shoulder as he walked back towards the house.

“Cabron?”

“Javier! What is it now??” He yelled through his gritted teeth, catching Javier and the crew by surprise. “I have very important business to attend to and I need as little interruption as possible. Now what is it?”

“Jeffe, no disrespect.”

Pravitt waved him off. “Just out with it! What do you need?”

“Jeffe, no disrespect but you have not given us any instructions as to how you want your cement. I need to know how wide, how deep. I see the hole has been dug. Do you want a square patio, a round one, steps? Please give me some informaccion.”

“You said you knew how to do this, Javier! If not, I can get someone else for the job. Juan over there perhaps.”

“No, Señor.” He shook his head. “That is not the problem. I need dimensions. I need to know what kind of grade of cement. What psi? Is it sand, gravel? I need to know these things. Please, Señor.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Pravitt said as even more sweat beaded on his forehead. “That is why I hired you, Javier. I trust you. You decide.” He said putting his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I am putting my complete trust in you.” He said and with that, started to walk back towards the house.

Javier shook his head as he looked down into the pit. “Um, Jeffe.”

Pravitt stopped in his tracks. “Didn’t I just explain to you that I am a very busy person, Javier?!”

“Si, jeffe.” Javier slightly winced. “But what is that in the middle? It will have to be removed. It is not grade, Señor.”

“No.” Pravitt clenched his teeth and then eased his jaw into a relaxed smile. “Javier? Do you mind taking a walk with me?”

Javier nodded and walked with the man.

“Javier, you need to listen to me. Do not second guess me, especially in front of the other guys. If the hole is not level, then make it level, capiche? That obfuscation in the middle is, um, that impediment, the bump in the middle is an old DWP pipe when the city was developing this area. Just work around it, that’s all. That’s all I ask, Javier, so no more headaches, ok? I am getting the worst headache! This sun is god-awful! I have much work to do in my office but I will be looking in on you and your crew from time to time. No lazy work, Javier. I trust you to keep your crew busy. I want you to push them, to really push them. I only have the rental on cement for the weekend, but I expect this job start to pouring today with the finish being Sunday, the latest. I need to you to work with me on this, Javier. Can you do that?”

“I will do a good job, jeffe.” Javier confided. “Now let me tell you something. I have a wife and daughter at home, so I take my work seriously.”

“Exactly.”

“I need to keep a roof over my head, food on our plates, clothes on our backs. We have bills, Señor.”

“Javier, you’re bringing sand to the beach.”

“Que?”

“Never mind. All I ask is an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, my friend.”

“I agree cabron.” Javier said. “It is hard for us to find work. Look at me, I’m well-educated. I have trouble finding work, we all do. With them, they are too Mexican. With me, I’m not enough.”

“How’s that?”

“My Spanish is not that great, but it is not as bad as…” His voice trailed off.

“As mine?” Pravitt grinned and lit another cigarette.

“No…no Señor. I was going to say that my Spanish is not as bad as my crew’s English.” He smiled. Pravitt threw back his head with a mighty guffaw.

“You see, when I got fired off the loading dock, my wife and I went through a rough time. I had to leave her and go down to Mexico to look for work. Her uncle lives down there and I went to work for him. He put me in charge of a crew just like this digging ditches.”

“That’s great. So, you have experience working over a crew?”

“But let me tell you something else, Señor.” A frustrated look came over his face. “The job was mal sueño, like a, uh, bad dream. To the Mexicans I wasn’t Mexican enough. They thought of me as a guerbacho, a white person who would side with management, some gringos from Texas who didn’t trust me because I was Mexican. I was lost. I was an outsider no matter who I was.”

“I know exactly what you mean, my friend.”

“You do?”

“I do. I’m not from Los Angeles, originally. I come from the Midwest, Chicago to be exact. I’m not used to all of this sunshine. It will drive a man crazy, I think.” He smiled.

“Thank you, jeffe.” Javier nodded. “We will do a good job for you.”

“No problemo, Javier.” He said in a boast to nothing. “No problemo.”

The work progressed slowly, both outside and in. The work outside required physical stamina and was muscle-achingly difficult, but to those experienced, it was of no mean consequence.

The work inside, however, although it required no great feats of strength, no real physical exertion or could ever be confused with hard labor, the work made the man on the inside in the cool darkness of his home office, sweat as profusely as if he were outside working under the already sweltering mid-morning sun.

Every now and then, Pravitt would glance up from his expenditures and spreadsheets that weren’t making much coherent sense, to check up on if the crew was performing to his satisfaction. In reality, he could care less if the crew was working, just as long as they were getting the job done.

At one point, as Pravitt lay immersed in his figures as much as any drowning man, a ruckus from the yard. No sooner had he dipped his sweaty nose back into the spreadsheet than there was a knock at the door. He chose to ignore it. The rapping grew persistent until it realized into an intolerable pounding. Livid at being disturbed when he specifically asked not to, he jumped from his chair. He decided then and there he was going to strangle his foreman and give that other guy, Juan, a promotion.

“What?!” He exploded as he wrenched open the door with a mighty pull.

Standing at the doorway was a perplexed, but annoyed Marisol wearing sunglasses. “Why did you lock me out?”

Pravitt stood there silently, mouth agape.

“Well, don’t just stand there, Papi, let me in.”

“Certainly.”

“Or is she still here?” Marisol said, looking around the entry.

Pravitt blinked twice, almost looking through Marisol. His thin mouth twitched. He didn’t believe what he was witnessing. “No, uh, no she’s not.”

“Wonderful, then step aside.” She said as she pushed past him and walked into the air-conditioned backroom that lead to the side office. “You expect me to stand out there sweating in this Dolce Gabbana? I don’t think so.” She said with a hand on her curvy hip.

“I’m sorry.” Pravitt shook his head, slightly confused. “What are you doing here?”

“You know what I’m doing here.”

“Marisol, I told you expressly not to come here today.”

“You know why I’m here.” She repeated. “Besides, I wanted to see you.”

“You saw me earlier this morning.” He groused. “I asked that you not come here today.”

“Yes, but I don’t work for you.” She countered.

“I never said you do. Besides, when you were my secretary, did I ever treat you like you worked for me?

“Only when you were banging me, saying: ‘Who owns you? Who’s your Daddy, baby’.” She laughed. “You remember that, Papi?”

Pravitt smiled at the memory. “Yeah, but that was before we really knew each other.” He jounced with a laugh. “Besides, things were different then.”

“Why are you so sweaty? You’re just gleaming with sweat.” Marisol said, having enough of ancient erotic memories for now.

“I’ve been going over the business.”

“Are we okay?” She asked with an alarmed look. “I mean, are we still solvent?”

Pravitt shook his head. “Yeah, I’m happy to say my business is solvent, but things will be better in the very near future.”

“Good.” Marisol said in her beautiful, bought smile.

“Kiss me.” He said and came towards her.

“Ewww! No! Gross!” She recoiled. “You’re all sweaty and disgusting.”

“Gee, thank. Great, just what I wanted to hear.”

“You know what I mean, Papi. I don’t like sweaty guys. Never did.”

“Uh-huh.” He nodded, remembering how she’d freak if he dropped so much as a bead of sweat on her during sex. If he accidentally dripped sweat on or near her face, it was over; even if it wasn’t over.

It was strange the way she turned; she wasn’t that way in the beginning. In the beginning, she was as dirty as he was. Now that she got a taste of his money, not so much. False advertising, he mused. As much as money was an aphrodisiac for women like Marisol, sex was the bait for men like him. In both cases he was being screwed.

“Are you listening to me?” She asked with her arms crossed. “Did you even hear what I said?”

“What?”

“I want you to fire those guys.” She pouted. “All of them.”

“Huh?” He asked with a blank stare. “What guys? Who?”

“Those workers out back!”

“Why?”

“They were all looking at me. A couple of them made some yelps and a whistle or two. The big one-"

“Javier.” He answered.

“I don’t need to know his name!” She whined. “He made a kissing noise.”

“Live with it, okay?”

Marisol glared daggers at him.

“I can’t fire them, they’re only here for the day or two.”

“Papi, I don’t think you heard me. They were being perverted to me.”

“Well, look how you’re dressed.” He gestured with a defiant air.

“What?” She said and appraised her own appearance. “What is wrong with this outfit? What is wrong with the way I’m dressed?” She asked, incredulous. “I’m not hanging out anywhere, nothing’s showing, I’m dressed very informal and for comfort.”

“You’re dressed in Dolce and Gabbana.”

“So?”

“At eleven-thirty in the morning?” He said, glancing at his watch. “And like hell you’re dressed for comfort.” He spat. “Everything is so tight on you. No wonder they treated you like they did. Your boobs are gigantic in that outfit.”

“And they’re all real. That’s the beauty of being a Latina.”

“And a beautiful Latina you are.”

“I’m not flat like those pince hueras.”

“Like what?”

“Like those fucking white women.”

“Is that what that word means?” He snarled. “Never mind, I’ll deal with his ass later.”

“Who?” She said, looking up from her lipstick mirror, touching at her lips.

“Don’t worry about it. “So, who made kissing noises again?”

“The young guy.” She smiled, the control shifting back to her in the conversation. “The cute one in the black wife-beater.”

“Javier.” He grumbled. “Oh really?” He said, raising an eyebrow.

“Don’t get all macho about it. I took care of the situation.” She waved him off with a noisy, bangled wrist. “I told him in Spanish I was your wife.” She smiled. “You shoulda seen his expression.”

It took half a moment to register. “You what?!!” He exploded. “Are you nuts?”

“What?” She shrugged and closed her mirror. “What’s the big deal?”

“Omygod!” He ran his sweaty palm across his equally sweaty dome. “Have you lost your mind?”

“Relax.” She shook her head. “He apologized after that. I put him back in line.” She said in her smug manner.

“Marisol, listen to me…you can’t go around telling people that!”

“What’s the big deal? Like you said, they’re a bunch of day workers, just a bunch of Mexicans.” She shrugged it off. “They don’t even speak English.”

“But you cannot, listen, you can not go around telling people that. Oh, forget it. Look who I’m talking to.”

“What?” She gave him a hard look. “What is that supposed to mean? What? Am I just another Mexican? Is that what you meant?”

“No.” He said sternly. “I meant look who I’m talking to, a woman who wears Prada at eleven o’clock in the morning. You live by your own rules.”

“Nice save.” She smiled. “And it’s Dolce Gabanna.” “Anyway, I’m meeting the girls at Ivy for lunch. Care to go?” She smiled from behind her four hundred dollar sunglasses that he had bought for her on a whim.

“How can I go?” He snapped. “I have to stay here and babysit.”

Marisol shrugged. “Kiss.” She pursed her lips. “Ciao, catch you later.” She breezed past him. “You should get some more sun, Papi. Not worry so much.”

“Tell me about it.” He said as he slaked off another wave of perspiration from his furrowed brow.

Pravitt watched Marisol from behind the curtained window. He watched her walk in that probable accentuated strut all women with curves walked. At once, he was proud and jealous of the way she flaunted her body. He found himself smiling as she shook her ass as she slowly walked by the workers, all of whom stopped working to stare at her. He couldn’t figure if it was all in his mind or she exaggerated her saunter. She turned and looked in his direction and waved with a laugh. He caught himself waving back good-naturedly before realizing his actions. She amazed him. How she knew he was watching he had no idea. Damn, he was proud of that woman’s body! At least, he didn’t have to pay for it, like he did with his wife, he groused. He smiled as the workers followed her ass with their eyes. His smile ignited into rage as he saw her flick a sudden wave to them as she exited the grounds.

That was pushing it for him. She could wiggle her ass and look like a whore for him, she just couldn’t act like one for them, he muttered. He would find a way to get even with her, he promised himself. Maybe he would not buy that ticket to the Cayman’s next month as they had planned. With the workers, their retribution was already close at hand, he said to himself.

For now, Dale Pravitt, huero pince pendajo, would play good guy. He changed his whole strategy. At once, he ventured outside, told the workers to take a break and even brought out some ice cold St. Pauli’s for them to drink. He made a quick call on his cell phone and had lunch brought to them from the nearest sandwich shop. Only once did he come close to losing his composure when one of the workers asked for a lime with the lager. Pravitt held his tongue and then calmly asked Javier to explain that a premium lager does not need a lime. Begrudgingly, Javier carried out this pompous request. Pravitt was not sure what the man laughed at, either when Javier explained it, but he had an idea.

At the end of the day, Pravitt was pleased with the work that had been completed. The men had worked hard and the new addition of the patio where the new deck would go, even to a novice such as Pravitt was a work of craftsmanship. They had even laid the tile in a beautiful and symmetrical pattern that was both pleasing to the eye and yet traditional. It was not so traditional, he mused, as to look ‘too Mexican’.

Javier approached Pravitt. “My men have done a good job, no?”

“Yes.” Pravitt nodded as he half inspected the work, eager to take the crew back before it got too dark. “Well, then, what do you say about hitting the road?”

“Señor?”

“My bringing you guys back to ‘the hood’, as it were.”

“No disrespect, jeffe, but my guys would like to spread covering over the work area.”

“That won’t be necessary, Javier.”

“Again, no disrespect, Señor.” Javier intoned. “I do not agree. It looks like rain is possible, no?”

“Ah, so it does.” Pravitt said looking up and noticing a few angry looking clouds overhead. “I wouldn’t bank on it.”

“The papers say there’s a twenty percent chance, Señor.”

Pravitt smacked Javier’s sweaty shirt. “That’s okay, son. The papers and the weatherman are more wrong than right. I wish I had a job where I was one out of three and still had that job.”

“Señor?” Javier asked, not knowing what point he was trying to make.

“Never mind.”

“I hate to bring this up. My men need to get paid.”

“Then don’t bring it up, Javier. You know it insults me that you keep on asking me about it.” He ignored the plea. “I’m shocked at you, Javier. Don’t I strike you as an honest businessman?”

“No disrespect, jeffe.”

“Then none taken. You will be paid in full, my friend. Now, let’s get ready and pack up, shall we?”

The request struck Javier as empty, but he did as he was told. He knew full well that dickheads like Pravitt would not help in cleaning up a site area and accordingly knocked on the back door when everything was packed away and ready.

“Listen, uh, jeffe.” Javier said to an apparently sleepy Pravitt.

Pravitt brushed back his few remaining hairs and nodded.

“I still the think the cement needs a tarp.”

“A what?”

“A tarp to cover the cement from the rain.”

“You know, Javier? You worry too much.”

Javier shrugged. “Si, cabron.” He said as he and the crew loaded into the van.

The drive to South Central was as uneventful and even quieter due to the fatigue than the ride hours earlier. It unnerved Pravitt that every few miles Javier seemed to push him on remembering to pay them, at one point telling him what each man, by name, was owed. The last time Javier broached the subject, Pravitt snapped at him, loud enough to silence him into not asking again and waking a few of the workers from their much deserved slumber.

As the van pulled into the parking lot, Javier approached him.

“When we get out, Javier, please!”

“Whatever you say, cabron.” Came his half-hearted reply.

The van lurched into the crowded and darkened parking lot, causing Pravitt to struggle for a spot. Javier suggested that he pull into the light in front of the store.

As everyone wearily disembarked, Javier told himself he was approaching the pince huero for the last time. If he did not hand over the money, he would take it out of him.

“Jeffe, now is the time.” Javier said firmly as they stood talking.

“Yes, Javier. I know, you’ve reminded me twenty times on the drive over. I’m well aware you need to get paid. In any event, I just wanted to thank you for your hard work. You guys did a magnificent job today and I am very happy I picked you.” He said and smiled and looked at each one. “Tell them, Javier. Tell them how pleased I am with the quality of the work.”

“Si, Señor. Javier said and stared at Pravitt. “If it will get us paid, whatever you say.”

“Don’t worry, Javier. You will get what’s coming to you.” He smiled amiably. “You liked the girl there at the house? You liked my wife?” He said out of the blue?”

“Señor?”

“The woman who was there today.” He said, holding back his rage.

“Si, cabron. Beautiful woman. The pichón. Very beautiful. Las nam nam, pelo.” Javier smiled. “Jeffe is very lucky.”

“Tell me about it.” He said slowly. “Please tell your crew what a fine job they did, okay? Really superb.” He said. “Now, let me pay you. Oh, must have left my wallet in the van. I’ll be right back. Don’t worry, like I said, you’ll get what’s coming to you.” Pravitt said as he walked back to the van. “Go on, tell them!” He turned to Javier and said good-naturedly as he walked towards the van. Javier smiled and turned to tell them.

Just as he heard Javier begin to translate, Pravitt slammed the door and gunned the van out of the parking lot and jerked the wheel hard to the right and down the street.

He laughed maniacally at the sight in his rear-view mirror of Javier and his crew running wildly after the van, mouthing what was surely the vilest words in Spanish and giving him the finger, which needed no translation. A few of them waved their fists weakly in the air in vain. All of this was observed in the comfort of his quick escaping rear-view mirror. One of them threw what looked like a rock, but it fell pathetically short of the mark. “That is why you will never get ahead, using your brawn instead of brain and that is why I did you a favor and maybe one day you’ll thank me. That is why I am, what did you call me, Javier, old boy, oh yes a pince pendajo.” He laughed. “I am numero uno pince pendajo and don’t you forget it!” He said proudly, unaware of what he had actually said.

When Pravitt dropped off the van, the clerk at the counter thanked him, calling him Mr. Warren, the name under which he had fictitiously registered the van. This made him chuckle as he walked out of the rental office. Again, Marisol was waiting for him.

“What’s so funny?” Marisol asked as she waited in her car outside.

“The little prick in there called me Mr. Warren, that’s all.”

Marisol shook her head. “I still don’t think that was a smart move, Papi.”

“Don’t worry about it, mi amor.” It’s the perfect crime. That kid will never know any different and I will return David Warren’s ID first thing Monday morning.” He smiled. “It’s all taken care of, my flower. Where do you want to celebrate tonight?”

“Oh, I don’t care.” She answered moodily.

“Why the attitude?” He griped. “What did I do now?”

“Nothing. I’m on my period, if you don’t mind. I just want to go home, put an ice pack between my legs, get into my jimmies, eat shitty food and just die.”

“Greeeeeat.” He said, his hopes for a long, sensual night quashed by moody, monthly reminder.

“I’ll drop you off at home.”

“Great.” He said solemnly.

Once Pravitt returned, he phoned the police to inform them that his wife had gone missing. Since she had not yet been missing for a full 48-hour period, he was told to call back. Period, he griped in an irony unto himself.

True to form, he had slept the blissful sleep of a man unbound by conscience, but the world beyond his window pane had invariably changed.

His bliss continued for another day or so when he woke up in a sweat. Despite the air-conditioning blowing full blast, he was sweaty. This was due to the turmoil he ignored within him, not the heat, although the day was blistering; much hotter than the days preceding. It was the kind of day that Angelinos tended to blame on global warming but some of the country, especially those in the Bible Belt, would explain by Los Angeles’ closer proximity to Hell itself. Despite the heat wave that would last the better part of the week, Pravitt tried to maintain his cool. He dutifully phoned in the case of his missing wife and waited. When early that day the doorbell rang, Pravitt was unfazed by the man standing before him who identified himself as Detective Morales. “Dale Pravitt?” The man flashed a badge.

Pravitt glared at him and nodded. “Look, I already spoke to your man.” He waved him off. “Your guy told me that I needed to wait at least seventy-two hours before phoning in a missing person, I wish you fellas would get your story straight.” He said angrily and then caught himself. He started to well up some drama that befit the occasion. “You see, it’s my wife.” He said, choking back tears that never ran down his cheek. “We had a fight and now she’s gone.”

“I’m sorry?” The detective said and leaned with arm on the door frame.

“You’re not here about my wife?”

“I’m investigating fraud.”

“Oh, I see. Um…How may I help you officer?” Pravitt answered as a trickle of sweat ran down his cheek now instead of a tear.

“Man, it’s hot.” The young man said. “Must be nice in the air-conditioning.”

“Yes, it’s the Electra-6000.” Pravitt smiled proudly. “It cools the entire house.”

“Then why are you sweating, Mr. Pravitt?”

“Am I?” He smiled and wiped at his forehead. “I’m just getting over being sick. This crazy weather, you know.”

“Mmm-hmm…” The detective nodded. “Viruses get you sick, not the change in the weather. So, you mentioned your wife is missing? I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, Detective…?” Pravitt said.

“Detective Morales.”

“But you said you were here investigating fraud of some sort am I to understand?”

The man stared at him; his brown eyes boring through him until he thought the world that existed beyond Pravitt’s steely, cold gaze would shatter.

“It seemed to me that if my wife were missing, I’d be more concerned about that.” He finally said.

Pravitt’s expression changed. “I’m confused. I thought you were over here responding to the call I made this morning?”

“No, sir, like my colleague informed you…you have to wait forty-eight hours, not seventy two as you said. I do find it strange that you didn’t call when your wife was missing. Why would you wait, Mr. Pravitt?”

“I did call; don’t try to confuse me, Detective.” He struck back, coldly. “And I wasn’t aware that the Los Angeles Police Department, which is somewhat out of its jurisdiction here in Beverly Hills, would send a detective to investigate a fraud charge.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not trying to confuse you. Also, I’m not here on what you’d call official business. Tell me, Dale…”

“That’s Mr. Pravitt to you, thank you.”

“Okay, tell me, Mr. Pravitt thank you.” The Detective shot back. “Have you had any work done on your property lately?”

“So, you say you’re not here on official police business?” Pravitt interrupted him.

“Hijole!” Detective Morales shook his head. “No sir. You might say it’s more of a personal request.”

"Then the matter is concluded, Detective.” Pravitt said smugly and slammed the door in the man’s face.

In the following weeks, Pravitt was a busy man. He made the perfunctory call to the Beverly Hills Police Station and informed them of his wife’s mysterious disappearance. He also logged online and did some minimal research on when he could file a claim on his wife’s insurance policy and also booked the vacation he had initially thought of canceling with Marisol to the Grand Caymans. Even though Marisol did not deserve it, he thought, he did.

Detective Morales was a busy man, as well. Calling on a favor from a friend at the Beverly Hills PD, he asked his friend to check up on a missing person by the name of Pravitt. It so happened that her husband had called twice, reporting her the day she had gone missing, which launched an eyebrow or two skyward. There was also a record of Mr. Pravitt phoning in about a missing persons about a week later, sending even more eyebrows ascending. It was decided to open an investigation into the disappearance. It wasn’t long until the media became involved.

The first inkling Pravitt had that things had gone awry was a call from a reporter investigating the story. Pravitt had no sooner slammed down the phone, than did Marisol call in a panic.

“Did you see the news at noon?”

“What?” He barked. “Marisol, calm yourself.”

“They’re investigating Carol’s disappearance!”

“That’s preposterous. Do me a favor, don’t call me on the office phone. Call me on the cell. It’s harder to tap them.”

“Papi, I’m frightened.”

“Aw, don’t be. The police have not asked me a thing. They’ll see it for what it is. An unhappy home, an unhappy wife, she did motion to divorce me three years ago, remember? Relax, the police have not questioned me. Don’t worry.”

“Ay, papi! The reason why she wanted to divorce you was me. That means the police will want to talk to me. Ohmygod!”

“Chill-lax. No one is going to talk to you. Like I said, they haven’t even spoken to me and they won’t.”

“I hope so.”

“Wait, hold on…” He said and placed Marisol on hold. To her anxiety, the song that played while she waited those interminable fifteen seconds was “I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)”.

“Shit.”

“What is it, Papi? And do me a favor? Change your song!”

“What? Oh, never mind that. Marisol, listen to me. I want you to stay calm with what I have to tell you. The police are here. They want to speak to me.” He said as he cupped his hand over the phone. “Not to worry. They’re probably here because of the story on tv. They probably just want to ask me about Carol and our relationship and how it was and things like that.”

“Ay, you worry too little, Papi.” She said

It would have been simple had that been all the police had wanted, but tipped off by Detective Morales, the police had raided Pravitt’s home and searched his estate. It had come to Detective Morales from a good source that the estate had undergone a landscaping and recent renovation.

Plans were borrowed from the DWP and Morales watched with representatives from the Beverly Hills PD as the breaker was brought in to tear apart the concrete patio when x-rays revealed an anomaly not found on the original city plans.

What was found at the bottom of the cement was a steel caisson not a water pipe to which Pravitt had alluded. Inside were the remains of a fifty-something Caucasian woman, presumably Mrs. Carol Pravitt, her mysterious disappearance no longer that mysterious.

Detective Morales was promoted the day the D.A. pressed formal charges on Pravitt. At Morales’ side was the man who instigated the charge of fraud, Javier Jimenez, his cousin.

When the call came through that Pravitt’s wife was missing and the media took hold of the story, Javier informed his cousin that the media had gotten the story all wrong. Pravitt’s wife wasn’t missing and she wasn’t a white lady, she was a very hot Latina. It wasn’t long after Marisol was arrested, along with Pravitt at LAX Airport en route to the Caymans that Pravitt’s story began to fall apart.

The final twist had come with Dale Pravitt’s business card that Javier had found in his pocket the next morning, selling Pravitt down the river and sending his police officer cousin directly to the rental business and then his house. Initially, Detective Morales’ suspect had been a man by the name of Dave Warren, but that lead was quickly dropped as fabricated when speaking to the rental representative in favor of the name on the business card and Dale Pravitt’s instruction for Javier to learn it. In the end, Dale Pravitt’s hubris did him in and he would join those from the perimeter of society he disdained in the Downtown Men’s Prison. His social status placed him again on the perimeter of that very same society, this time not as a power but as ignoble outsider.


BIO: I am originally from New York City and my short stories have been published in 80 literary reviews and e-zines, such as Byline, New Authors Journal, Nite-Writer's International Literary Arts Journal,Howling Moon Press, Hack Writers, New Online Review, Literary Tonic, six sentences and most recently in NexGenPulp, the UK literary review, Bottom of the World and another UK review, Cupboard Gloom. I have written for The New York Bar Guide (as a reviewer) and in various newspaper articles that have appeared in The Pasadena Star, Whittier News and the San Gabriel Tribune. I have published a work of verse, Indigo, with Alpha Beat Press and have completed my first novel. I currently reside in Los Angeles . NOTE: Six stories of mine have been recently featured in 6S Volume 1, a collection of short stories by various writers available at Amazon.

9 comments:

Baby Island said...

Great story, superb manifestation of the rich white racist lawyer! So nice to see more of your work out and about! Keep up the fantastic writing.

Frank Vorassi said...

Enjoyed this - nice neat package. It could have done with a little more proofreading, especially in the first few paragraphs, spotted a couple of errors, but once the story got underway these were more infrequent. The story itself was good, kept the reader interested, good characterisation.

The ending was perhaps a little pat, a little too 'neatly wrapped up' - it felt like more of a conclusion than an ending, but it didn't affect the overall story too much.

Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

I am familiar with Mr. Grant's writing, which I always find compelling. He has not disappointed with this short story. It's the first one of its genre I've read of his - and it just goes to show that when you have real talent, like Mr. Grant's, you can successfully cover all genres in ways that grab the readers' attention. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

BTW - the "anonymous" comment on Joe's superb story was written by
Caroline Wells
caccy46

Write some more, Joe!

Madam Z said...

This was an entertaining story. It's fun to have a villain with no redeeming virtues, a man I can love to hate. I still feel bad about poor Javier and his hard-working crew, though.

Bill said...

More good stuff! Keep it up, a fun read.

Nate said...

Solid story with solid characters. I agree about the ending; it did seem a little too neatly tied, but otherwise it was a fantastic and fun read. Fantastic bad guy.

Kevin Michaels said...

Well written and vividly descriptive, with solid believable characters. Joe captures a realistic and somewhat gritty picture of the underbelly of Los Angeles that many never see or experience- great job at capturing the feel of nuances of the people who are a part of this world. A fun read like Robert Parker and Lawrence Block that gives you a real smile at the end.
KM

Anonymous said...

Just a great fucking story. An urban epic.