The Renegades: A Charlie Hood Novel | Chapter 32 of 57

Author: T. Jefferson Parker | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1487 Views | Add a Review

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22

 

 

The next evening Draper steered his black M5 down a Cudahy side street. He looked out at the troubled city, a city eaten alive by corruption and gangs and drugs. It was now spottily patrolled by the Maywood PD, which was contracted to fill the shoes of the recently fired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But Draper knew that it was really Cudahy’s mayor—and Hector and Camilla Avalos—who ran the place. More or less together, thought Draper, in wicked harmony.

It was Friday, and Israel Castro’s gunman sat beside him. He was slender, with calm eyes and a recently barbered head of thick black hair. He was younger than Draper had wanted but now he was stuck with him. Draper had given him a stolen stainless steel Smith .357 Magnum revolver and the kid had thumbed open the cylinder, spun the loads and slapped it back into the frame. Just like a gunslinger, Draper had said. The boy had smiled and jammed the gun into the waistband of his Wranglers. He had beautiful teeth.

Now the gun was still in the boy’s pants and the boy was in the car with him and, as usual, Avalos’s sullen gunmen coalesced on the dark Cudahy streets to direct the car into the sprawling, shabby lair.

Friday night, thought Draper. There’s life and there’s death.

“Victorio, I ask you once again to keep your mouth shut,” said Draper. “You are Herredia’s man. You are loyal to Herredia. You are only with me because he has ordered you to be with me. You are to be my new partner.”

Sí. Yes.”

“Do not show me respect. Avalos doesn’t respect me and you must not respect me either.”

“I no respect.”

“Kill him only when I tell you to. Only then. I will say it with a look, not with words. You must understand this perfectly and do it perfectly. Then the other five thousand will be yours.”

Sí. Herredia has gueras putas?”

“I have no idea if he has blond whores.”

One pistolero directed them through the sliding metal door and into the warehouse. Another waved them through the vast dark space. The big M5 engine grumbled and Draper could hear the sound magnified by the walls around them and see the dust rising in the beams of his headlights.

Two more gunmen waited for him at the far, weakly lit end. When Draper and Victorio got out they were frisked and their weapons were taken away. Draper saw that Victorio had been hiding a fat black-handled switchblade in one boot and a one-shot derringer in the other. Victorio gave the men a contemptuous stare as they confiscated his things, and he gave one to Draper, too.

Then one of the men pushed open a heavy metal door and led them out to a courtyard, down a pathway worn in the near-dead grass, and into a large metal building. The second pistolero brought up the rear. Draper walked and looked at the old tables and benches, the rows of industrial overhead lights. He had always thought of this big room as a former machine shop, or perhaps an ancient assembly line. Then they all stepped into the groaning old elevator that would take them down two stories and into the warren of rooms that was Avalos’s headquarters, and of course, the dogfighting arena.

Draper stared straight at the floor as the elevator lowered. No one spoke. When the car rumbled to a stop, another one of Avalos’s men slid open the door for them. Draper stepped out and was surprised to hear the two gunmen getting out behind him. They usually rode back up and he never saw them again until after the weighing and pressing and packaging.

He turned and looked at one of them. The gunman was a culiche—old-school Sinaloan—creased Wranglers and ostrich boots and a white yoked cowboy shirt. He reminded Draper of Victorio, and Draper conceded that if Ostrich Boots and Victorio knew each other, then this was likely his own last day among the living.

“Extra security tonight,” he said.

“Rocky says.”

“Rocky should know,” said Draper.

Ostrich Boots spoke rapid Spanish to Victorio, who looked bitterly at Draper before he answered. Draper only caught a few of their words: Los Mochis, Tijuana, El Patrón and, of course, gueras putas.

They walked through the room with mullioned windows and the one that smelled of creosote, then down the hallway with the high ceiling trailing cobwebs. Draper wondered how many years they had been there, lifeless shreds swaying in the currents.

Then they came to the entrance of the sanctum and Ostrich Boots knocked on the door.

Rocky opened it and the gunmen folded back into the shadows. Draper heard their steps diminishing, then a door clanging shut and then only silence.

They stepped inside without speaking and Rocky led them to a small room that contained apparently empty beer kegs and a large, carnival-style popcorn maker with the image of a clown etched onto the glass. Draper introduced Victorio to Rocky. Rocky seemed to stare straight through the boy as he listened to his name and the way he spoke. Then Rocky told him to take off his shirt. Victorio stood bony and half naked as Rocky handed him the neatly folded guayabera shirt and told him to put it on. It was crisp and white and hung loose, cut for tropical heat. Then Rocky handed Victorio the stainless steel revolver that had with seeming magic transmigrated from Draper to Victorio to the distant gunmen to Rocky and now back to Victorio again. Victorio accepted the gun with a small nod and then the weapon vanished under his shirt. Draper saw that Victorio was so slenderly built he could have concealed a sleeping bag under the guayabera.

“No existen balas capaces de matar nuestros sueños,” said Rocky.

There are no bullets that can kill our dreams, thought Draper.

Rocky led them from the small room to the entrance of the fighting arena. He used two keys to open the scarred and dented steel door. His hands were steady. The welds were still shiny on the newly added lock flange.

Draper stepped in and saw the familiar fight pit, and the seats raised up around it on three sides, and the glass-walled box where Hector Avalos paced, not slowing as he looked across the arena at his closest lieutenant, his gringo cop courier, and Herredia’s new boy.

Draper climbed the stairs to the suite. He smelled spilled beer and cigarette smoke and the underscents of blood, shit and fear. Avalos pulled him in for a punishing hug and Draper could feel his power, drunk and unsteady as he was. Avalos had never so much as touched Draper, who wondered at the increased security and Avalos’s sudden affection. Avalos crushed half of Draper’s air out of him and pushed him away, his teardrop tattoos riding the wrinkles of a crooked smile.

Avalos stood back, ignoring Rocky but regarding young Victorio. He walked around the boy like a man assessing a horse.

Culiche, man?” Avalos asked.

“Yes.”

“Herredia’s top-of-the-line best?”

“Yes.”

“Do you speak more than one word of English?”

“Yes.”

“Fuck, you’re only a child. A child. Would you like a drink of reposado, my boy?”

Victorio nodded and Avalos went behind the bar and poured four shot glasses of the tequila. He carried one to Victorio and held on to one for himself, jerking his head for Draper and Rocky to get their own.

Draper noted that the luggage was in its usual place by the bar, four rolling bags with their handles upright as always, as if skycaps were about to race in and claim them.

“Where is Camilla?” asked Draper. The crude dogfighting arena seemed even more charmless without Camilla, whose strongly perfumed, expensively dressed, snake-haired, big-butted presence Draper had always looked forward to. It was a shame. Business was often a shame.

“Shopping. Shopping! Why do you ask?”

“Simple good manners.”

“Nothing good is simple.”

“Fire is good and simple.”

“Fire! Who cares about fire?”

Avalos dropped into his recliner and Rocky stood by the sliding glass door that could be opened to let in the cries of the crowd and the snarling of the fighting dogs and the waft of various smoking substances on fight nights. Draper and Victorio got the couch across from Avalos. Avalos brought a pipe and a small glass jar from the cigar box on the coffee table and jiggled a rock into the blackened bowl. He used a lighter in the shape of a miniature flamethrower to heat the rock. Then he reached out and handed the pipe to Victorio.

The boy took a huge hit and coughed hard and gagged, then his body shuddered and he handed the works back to Avalos.

Avalos burned the rock again and sipped the smoke, then looked at Draper and proffered the pipe.

“No, thank you. I enjoy having brain cells.”

Avalos looked at Rocky but proffered nothing.

“Show Victorio the cash,” said Avalos. “Show him the scales and the vacuum sealer. Show him how we do our part of El Tigre’s business here in beautiful Southern California.”

Draper rolled one of the suitcases to the bar, flipped it over and unzipped the main compartment and hefted the loose bundles of bills to the bar top. He turned on and reset the digital scale, making sure the plate surface was clean and properly affixed. He turned on the vacuum sealer to give it plenty of time to warm up, and made sure there were plenty of bags. He waited for Rocky’s phone to ring but it didn’t.

Victorio hovered and watched. He seemed both alert and disinterested and Draper wondered at his fine acting skills. He was playing his part well.

Rocky stood unmoving with his back to the sliding glass door, arms crossed, seemingly caught in the net of his own tattoos.

Avalos stood and lumbered drunkenly to the bar.

“In the beginning there was loyalty,” he said to Victorio.

“Yes.”

“This is no place for selfishness. The selfish will rot. You can ask Señor Coleman about that on your long drive south.”

Victorio looked at Draper with eagerness on his face. Draper looked back down and adjusted the bag feed on the sealer and whistled quietly.

“Look at me,” said Avalos. “Do you believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost?”

“Yes, mucho.

“You’re not a citizen of the United States.”

“I have good papers.”

“You’re not the kind of man who should be traveling across the border. You look suspicious, even to me. You look guilty. You look like the unholy ghost.”

Draper looked up at Avalos and saw the drunk belligerence in the man.

Rocky’s cell phone rang.

Avalos showed no reaction. “There are dollars for us all,” he said to Victorio. “Week after week, and year after year, more and more. But only for the loyal.”

Rocky held the phone to his ear for a moment, then lowered it. “There are no problems,” he said.

Draper looked at Victorio with something new in his eyes.

“What problems would there be?” asked Avalos. “I said what problems?”

The revolver was almost touching Avalos’s stomach when the first shot scorched through him and shattered the sliding glass door behind him. His knees collapsed and Victorio shot him twice more in the chest and when Avalos slumped over, Victorio tried to put a bullet in his head but the gun clicked loudly, then again and again.

Victorio looked up in confusion. Rocky blew him through the window with two deafening blasts from a sawed-off ten-gauge and the heavy steel shot carried Victorio out into midair, then he descended in a bright shower of glass and landed dead, faceup in the fighting pit.

Draper pushed Avalos with his toe and a lifeless arm flopped to the bloody carpet.

In Draper’s mind, time did something funny—it stuttered or snagged or maybe just jiggled a little. Then it was right again.

“We did it,” he said.

“We’ll burn in hell for it, but that’s a while from now.”

“Camilla?”

“We have no idea where she is.”

“That’s a good thing. I’m happy to be in business with you, Rocky. We will prosper.”

In silence they finished the weighing and the sealing, then they began packing the bundles of cash back into the suitcases with some old clothes. Draper looked once at Avalos and once at Victorio, mainly to be sure there were no miraculous recoveries in progress. But he enjoyed the insult, too, the disrespect of working so close to the dead that he could smell their blood.

One of Avalos’s gunmen came into the arena when they were almost finished packing the cash. He looked into the fight pit, then climbed the stairs and looked at Avalos and the money and the men.

“Can I get a drink?” he asked.

“The bar is open,” said Rocky. “I’ll have a beer.”

A few minutes later another trusted Avalos lieutenant came in, and he did almost exactly what the first had done—he stopped and looked at the young Sinaloan in the middle of the fighting pit, then he went up the stairs and looked down at his old boss with amazement and disgust.

“Get him a drink,” Rocky said to the first.

Then another man came, then another.

By the time the last suitcase was packed and the equipment was put away, four more former Avalos soldiers had made their way up into the suite. Roughly half of Avalos’s top men, thought Draper. The smart half. The half that chose life at all cost. He knew he’d never see the others or Camilla again and that was the way it had always been and always would be.

Rocky poured drinks and handed one to each of his men. “The killer from Sinaloa murdered Hector,” he said. “So I closed his eyes. This is the truth. Tell everyone you know. Coleman and I will make the delivery to El Tigre tonight. You’ll clean up this mess. Make sure that Hector will be found so we can have a good funeral. Make sure the others are not.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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