Condo Chronicles: The More, The Merrier, My Ass

“Excuse me…who are you?” I asked, attempting to sound as casual as possible. Though you might be overdoing it with the slight drawl…what are you gonna say next? Are you gonna extend the offer ‘to be his huckleberry’?

The grey-haired gentleman (who appeared to be the spokesman of the group) reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a leather holder. He flipped it open to reveal a badge. “I’m sorry…I should have introduced us. We’re Mayor Dwek’s protection detail for tonight, and as part of our job, we need to inspect your home prior to her arrival. You know…in order to ensure her safety.” He placed the badge back into his jacket. “With your permission, of course.”

Hmmm…I sure hope that Rhonda put the sativa back into the cabinet before they got here… “Absolutely,” I replied, opening the door wider and raising my free hand to welcome our new guests. “My home is certainly open to Little Peru’s finest. Come on in, gentlemen. Feel free to look around.”

The charismatic police officer turned back to his comrades. “All right, boys, you know the drill.” As his brothers-in-arms began to permeate my abode, he placed himself squarely before me and Rhonda in the midst of our spacious living room and its view of the Manhattan skyline. Well, less spacious at the moment, with all these chairs that we brought out of storage for everyone. Sometimes I wonder where we got all this crap… Even though he wasn’t of any imposing height, his composure and disposition seemed to have stature on their own. His almost-silver mane was complemented well by a goatee of gunmetal grey, and despite the thick blue-collar Jersey accent, he conducted himself with all the grandeur and poise of a Victorian butler. “Sir…ma’am…I’m Officer Linares, and I apologize for our intrusion. I hope that everything goes well for you and your building during Her Honor’s visit. After we’re done with this brief sweep around your home, we’ll get out of the way and just be flies on the wall for the rest of the night.”

“Not a problem,” Rhonda said mellifluously, being the warmest possible of any hostess. “You and your fellow officers should make yourselves at home. Can I get you anything? Or anything for one of your boys? Or maybe something from the catering sent by the mayor?” She motioned towards our dining table, which was struggling under the weight of our edible horde. Despite being the centerpiece of the table, it was receiving less attention than a cooked turkey at an immigrants’ Thanksgiving dinner. (Or, as those in Little Peru called that holiday, Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias…it’s no wonder that the Spanish speak so quickly. They have twice as much to say in the same amount of time.)

As the other officers quickly moved throughout the various rooms of our condo, Officer Linares kept his focus on the two of us. “Very kind of you, ma’am, but we’re fine for now.” He looked past us, observing a quick motion of one of his brethren. “We’re good? That’s great. Okay, it looks like we’re all in the clear.” He reported quickly and quietly to a microphone in the lapel of his jacket before speaking to us both again. “So, it’s almost showtime, since the Mayor and her aides are now getting out of the car downstairs; she’ll be up in a minute. So, we’ll now get out of your hair. Sir…ma’am…thank you for your cooperation.”

Rhonda shook his hand. “And thank you for your service, Officer Linares. Mind if I close those doors to the other rooms that you opened? It’s a little drafty here in the living room, and with those doors closed, we’ll be able to warm up this room faster.”

Officer Linares nodded, petting our cat Flukeman as he rubbed his tuxedo body against the bodyguard’s leg. One tuxedo, one suit…a perfect match. “Absolutely, ma’am, go right ahead.”

As Rhonda walked away to shut the doors of the various adjoining rooms, I begrudgingly attempted to fulfill the social obligation where a conversation can’t just die on its own, especially when it has only a few more moments to live. “So…like Rhonda was saying, if you or any of your men need something, just let us know…”

Even though he was still kneeling down and petting Flukeman, I was still able to hear and decipher his mumbled response. “…Anal sex with machetes.

“Well,” I answered, after a moment of consideration. “I’m glad that you feel comfortable enough to ask, but I’m gonna have to decline that request…that won’t be on the menu for tonight.”

Chuckling, he stood up and looked up at me. “That’s funny…sorry, that’s the handle for this guy on the Internet who keeps making threats towards Mayor Dwek: AnalSexWithMachetes. We haven’t been able to track him down just yet. He’s been a major headache for us, and if we could get a hold of him, this protection detail would become a whole lot less stressful…”

A new visitor was announced via another loud knock on my door, and before I could move a muscle, Officer Linares moved towards the door and opened it for me. I’ll be a fly on the wall…my ass…more like a smooth-talking motherfucker on the wall…

The mayor’s paladin opened the door, and after the entrance of several people with plastic smiles (likely aides with the aspirations of taking the place of their boss and willing to stab each other to get it), I finally recognized the lady of the hour as she stepped into my domain: Mayor Dwek. To my surprise, she was much taller than I had expected, and though she didn’t look that different from the poster, those ubiquitous images didn’t do her justice. From both her body language and facial expressions, her physical presence gave a strong matriarchal presence that couldn’t be conveyed in a two-dimensional form, much like a great live band who never sounds convincing on any recording. Without needing any prompt by her aides, she walked to both me and Rhonda, who was now standing again by my side.

“Hello, I’m Mayor Dwek. Thank you for welcoming us into your home,” she said, gripping my hand firmly but looking towards Rhonda. “I’ll do whatever I can to remedy your situation. Hopefully, we can fix this problem together.” As she walked to one of the many chairs situated in the middle of the room, I started to close the door…only to observe a foot blocking the door’s base from the outside. It was then that a familiar face poked its head through the narrow gap of the door frame.

“Raymond?” I spurted in evident confusion. “What are you doing here?”

Our property manager Raymond Vitalona pushed the door open slowly, placing a hand over his heart. “God bless you, sir…I apologize profusely if I never told you beforehand. I didn’t tell you that I was one of the Mayor’s aides?”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

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Condo Chronicles: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

“Okay, so how does the place look? Do you think that it looks okay?”

“It looks fine!” I said with exasperation. “If you clean one more thing, I’m going to amputate your arms…and then they’ll be blood everywhere. And then you’ll be especially upset because it’ll be messy again and you won’t have any hands to clean it.”

Rhonda looked at me crossly. “Well, pardon me if I want this place to be clean for once, especially on an important day like this one. It’s not everyday that the mayor of our town comes to visit our place with her entourage.”

It had been only a couple of weeks since the impromptu rendezvous at the White Mana. I had relayed the whole story to Rhonda upon coming home, and hungry for the adventurous opportunity to hunt potential corruption, she started sharpening her mental spears in eager anticipation. With her on board, I had called City Hall and left a message with Her Honor, thinking (and somewhat hoping) that would possibly be the end of it. (Yes, as I came to find out, mayors are to be addressed in the same fashion as a court judge. Though, I’ve never understood the tradition of attempting direct dialogue with someone’s abstract traits. In some way, it almost feels like a priest attempting to converse with someone’s demon during an exorcism. Do you hear me in there, Honor? The power of the jury compels you! And, if Honesty happens to exist and is somewhere around, can you say ‘hello’ for me?) Unfortunately, I was proven wrong when I received a call back the next day, informing me that Mayor Dwek would be happy to visit my building and discuss its legal issues with me. The invitation for a cocktail party had come from Rhonda, who was standing behind me when I had answered the phone and suffering feverish dreams of entrapment. Though her Honor had requested that it be a ‘snack’ party instead (since drinking and professionalism shouldn’t mix), she accepted our invitation. Rhonda had been rubbing her palms deviously when she had made the suggestion, much like she was doing so right now in our living room.

Rhonda grinned nefariously, much like the Grinch on Christmas. “I want her to feel perfectly comfortable, so that she won’t suspect our trap.”

“Wow…you’re way more into this whole thing than I ever would have suspected,” I confessed. “Remember, though, that Joe guy could be totally full of shit. So, I would reserve judgment until we’ve actually had a chance to talk to her for a while.”

Duh, of course…but if we’re gonna try to do any digging, we need to make sure that we’ve planned everything perfectly, right? Oh, and that reminds me…did you get all of those flyers in the halls?”

During the last couple of days, The Legion (as we now addressed Mayor Dwek’s loyal army of recidivist followers) had followed invisible tracks of vermin and found their way into the building through cracks and crevices. Smelling an opportunity for winning the hearts of more voters, her administration had instructed her followers to leave various flyers scattered throughout the building. These flyers of mackled propaganda and bold print announced the impending arrival of their lord and (without the consent of me or Rhonda) invited all denizens to become plenary members of our tentative meeting, so that they could spend hours upon hours to acquaint themselves with Mayor Dwek…in my home. Such is the hubris of all politicians, but in this particular situation, arrogant rudeness was the least of my worries. If I was to either make any progress with the building’s issues or conduct a clandestine operation of gathering criminal evidence, an apartment full of screaming lunatics would be an anathema. On top of that, I generally frown on allowing a shitstorm to splatter its contents in my living room…So, in an effort to decapitate the problem before the rest of its body could arise from the dirt, I had scoured the building and purged it of all the accursed flyers. I was confident that I had gotten rid of most of them, but I had no guarantee of that. I was just happy for my small fortune that Baby Boomers and third-world immigrants were still not hip to those more cutting-edge technologies like emails and phones.

I shrugged. “I think that I got all of them…I guess that we’re gonna find out soon enough.” I motioned towards our dining table. “What are we gonna do with that?”

Only a few hours ago, we had received a delivery from a catering service. It seems that Mayor Dwek had anticipated a large turnout from the building, and in preparation for it, she had decided to donate to the inventory of our ‘snack’ party. A cornucopia had been delivered to our home, wrapped in a plastic shell instead of wicker. Given that she was in the habit of dealing with her Latin American constituents on a more frequent basis, the bounty was filled with the mass-produced version of various Hispanic staples: Cuban sandwiches on stale bread, guava turnovers obviously baked too long, cornmeal empanadas that had been already split open during a clumsy transit. None of it may have been saporific…but if we ever wanted to lead a military horde, we now had the means to feed it.

Again, I shrugged. “I don’t know…I guess that we’ll just eat it over the next ten years…”

Suddenly, there was a knock at our door. We looked questioningly at each other, and with the collective realization that it was a surprise to us both, we looked at the door in silent wonder.

“She’s not due for another hour, right?” I whispered to Rhonda.

“Yeah,” Rhonda whispered back, adding to the susurrous hum likely to be heard by our visitor. “I hope that it’s nobody from the building.”

Reluctantly, I walked to the front door, almost tripping over our cat. “Goddamn it, Flukeman…get out of the way!” After almost killing my feline friend and myself, I looked through the peephole, and much like when peering into my own soul at times, I observed only darkness. For a moment, I thought that the lights in the hallway had been smashed out by mercenary ninjas who now waited for me in the darkness…before remembering that Rhonda had inadvertently blocked our peephole by adding an autumnal decoration on the door only yesterday. Well, we might not be able to identify potential murderers and rapists…but in our favor, nobody will dispute the claim in any eulogies that we were seasonally festive. I opened the door with resignation to our fate, hoping for The Lady but expecting The Tiger…only to come face-to-face with a party of three suited gentlemen and two in casual clothing. I noticed that the three men in suits were all sporting handguns within jacketed holsters; I could only assume that the other two carried concealed weapons as well.

I forced myself to smile at my potential doom. “Hello, gentlemen. Can I help you?

One suited man with grey hair and average height took a step forward. “Mr. Bolton? Is that you?”

I kept my body and my smile in place, despite the temptation to abscond with both. “Yessir. That’s me.”

The grey-haired gentleman nodded in response. “That’s good. Would you mind stepping aside then? We’re here to search your place.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Uncle Joe Wants You in His Army

“Woah, woah, woah, stop the clock,” I said, taking a sip of the viscous shake that always seemed in need of improvement. However, upon every visit to White Mana, I was always willing to give them another chance at redeeming themselves. That, and I was a glutton. “So…wait…Are you telling me that Mayor Dwek eats people? Listen, I’ve heard some interesting accusations about Jews in my day, but practicing cannibalism takes the cake. Unless it’s some sort of Orthodox Jewish thing…they can be a little weird at times, especially with that chicken-killing ritual…”

Octavio shook his head. “Nah, Pete, we’re not talking about that…dude, she’s selling their body parts!” Interpreting the expression on my face, he added, “And, no, she’s not selling them to cannibals, but to rich people who need them! That fuckin’ puta killed my aunt and sold her kidneys…like she was some sort of fuckin’ animal…”

“Okay…so, what Joe is trying to say is that Mayor Dwek is a dealer in the black market? In the trade of illegal organs?” I inquired as I finished the last few bites of my meal, along with any remainder of good health in me.

Joe nodded. “Exactly.”

Though I wasn’t about to announce my ignorance in this particular forum, the truth was that I knew little of Mayor Dwek. However, from my few months of residency in Little Peru, I knew that she had a devout following among her constituents. It wasn’t uncommon to pass an home and notice a large poster of her proudly displayed in a street-facing window. On rare occasions when walking by an open front door, you could peek inside and inspect their living room, where a portrait of Mayor Dwek would be positioned next to a picture of The Last Supper…as if she were the 13th apostle and had been tardy due to a meeting with the DPW that had run late. Of course, any explanation of how Dwek was Jewish and how such a tableau might seem ridiculous would likely fall on the deaf ears (sometimes literally deaf) of your typical Honduran grandmother. (As with sarcasm and subtlety, irony was not something that was yet universally understood or appreciated by all cultures.) When the day for elections came, her supporters would canvass the town and invade every building with an open door, placing flyers and posters throughout lobbies and accessible hallways. I had discovered such uninvited regalia taped to our own building’s walls, and they probably would have wallpapered my apartment with her visage if I had forgotten to lock my door. I could only guess that such cultish devotion came from her ability to dole out municipal and state welfare aimed at their impoverished families, along with other such perks. But could such a passionate loyalty result in them turning a blind eye towards occasionally butchering and harvesting one of their friends? To that extent, I had my doubts.

I wiped my hands and placed my napkin on my plate. “So, Mayor Dwek is the Devil Incarnate, and these red jumpsuit guys are her minions? Her diablitos? They somehow trick or compel people into getting their organs ripped out, and because they’re likely illegals, nobody knows and nobody cares.” I turned to Joe. “I gotta be honest, Joe: I’m having a hard time swallowing this story. Those are some pretty tall accusations. Got any proof to back that up?”

“Nothing concrete,” Joe stated flatly, as shook his head. “Just missing people, statements from their families, and some circumstantial evidence. Some eyewitness accounts about people running in hospital gowns through Little Peru at night; sometimes they’re wearing nothing.” Even though that last part sent a chill up my spine, I did my best to shroud it. Naked people running around Little Peru…why did that suddenly seem familiar to me? “But, as you can probably guess, we don’t have anything that would actually stick if an arrest were made.”

Octavio interjected, his face flush with emotion. “Joe knew about my aunt, Pete. And I didn’t even tell him about her. Dude, how else would he know about that? And then he showed me a bunch of papers about her death. How that bitch killed my aunt! I remember…I remember how my aunt would always bring me presents on my birthday…” He stopped midway through his sentence as his voice began to waver. Like every teenager, a public display of vulnerability was beyond his current skillset; it made him endearing, in the most awkward kind of way.

Moved by the emotional toll on my young friend, I looked at Joe gravely. “And so what do you and your benefactors want from us?” I deciphered the suggestive hint in Joe’s eyes. “Or, should I say…what do you want from me?”

“If you’re willing to help, we’d like you to do a little reconnaissance for us,” Joe began, flourishing his hand in incantation and summoning our check from the aether behind the counter. “We know about the legal problems in your building…don’t ask how, we just do. Invite the mayor to your building, under the assumption that she can help to fix the problem with your other tenants. When you get her alone, you should talk about the building for a while…but, at some point, make up a sob story about your struggling father and his need for a new pair of kidneys. Then, see what she says about it…and then relay that back to me.” He wiped his hands for emphasis. “No mess and no strings attached. Besides, maybe she could actually help you with your building problem. Who knows? In the end, it could be a win for everbody.”

“Well, maybe not for Mayor Dwek…And, so, that’s it?” I shot at him, with an assertive tone reserved for cross examinations in courtrooms.

Joe gesticulated with a flattened hand, passing it smoothly before him. “That’s it.”

Hmmm…even if this guy is full of shit, maybe Mayor Dwek could help me dismantle the legal bomb in our building…Though I was suspicious of him, I had to admit it: he was starting to make some sense. That, or all of the blood meant for my brain was now in my belly, and in my mentally-challenged state, I had just made a Faustian deal with a drooling smile.

I reluctantly nodded, as an elated Octavio patted my back in excitement. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Flashing his perfect teeth, Joe held out his hand. “Dinner is on me, buddy…you know, I could tell that you were a good guy, Pete. I’m smart like that.”

“Stop it already,” I said, rolling my eyes. “There’s a difference between beating a dead horse and running a victory lap on top of its rigid corpse…but, yeah, you got me. For the time being, I’m your man.” And with that, I took his offered hand and shook it.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Who Can You Trust if Not a Jersey Mayor

Take it easy, Octavio…you’re practically gushing over this guy. But, truth be told, I couldn’t find that much fault with my naive friend. Even though he had grown up in Little Peru and had learned what a two-bit hustler looked like, he was still young and hadn’t met the ones that wore haute couture as their sheep’s clothing. Before I could respond to Octavio, a server behind the White Mana’s counter approached our loquacious trio. “Had enough time to think it over? You guys ready to order?”

Along with our respective fries, onion rings, and shakes, Octavio and I ordered The Big Web; Joe ordered only a single slider by itself. After the server turned back to his grill, I was about to recommence our conversation…but before continuing this line of inquiry, I had to ask one other important question.

“One slider?” I questioned. “Who does that?”

“In my line of work,” Joe explained, “Appearances play a big role. I keep an eye on what I eat…but since I’m here, I might as well cheat…just a little bit.”

I turned to Octavio. “I’m not sure if I can trust a man who orders only one slider…that’s just plain crazy if you ask me…” I turned back to Joe. “And if you order that burger without the roll, I’m not going to sit here and have this conversation. There’s only so much that I can tolerate.”

Even though my jests had some intention of taxing the patience and possibly invoking the fall of the smiling mask on this dapper gentleman, it also had the secondary purpose of being a distraction. I wanted to conceal any observable indications of insight on my part. Better to keep him guessing and off balance…hopefully, it’s working.

Joe placed one hand over his heart with the other raised, as if offering its palm to the nearest holy tome available. “I swear to consume everything on my plate. Now, if I may…back to what Octavio was talking about: the red jumpsuits. But before I do, let me ask one question. Tell me, Peter, why did you move to Little Peru?”

“Well,” I pondered, “I can tell you one reason why I didn’t move there: it wasn’t because I wanted to listen to fucking bachata music every day for the rest of my life…though apparently I’m not going to get around that one.” In West Virginia, it had been country music; in my new home, it was bachata music. As I had found in my world travels, salt-of-the-earth people had simple tastes. Or, as Mel Brooks had eloquently summarized in Blazing Saddles: they were morons. “Obviously, though, I bought my place because it was affordable, especially for the amount of space…but, being the real estate guy, you already knew that.”

Joe smiled. “That I did. I mean, it’s crazy everywhere else around the Palisades, right? It’s ridiculous to find anything affordable around here. All the towns along the Hudson River have experienced a rush of price increases on homes, and it’s starting to happen on top of the Palisades as well. All except for Little Peru…ever wonder why?”

I shrugged. “Because nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where a block party includes live cock fighting?”

“Really?” Joe asked, in a startled fashion.

“No, he’s messing with you, Mr. Vasgersian,” answered Octavio. “That’s not true…” He paused with a pensive expression on his face. “Well, for the most part. There was that one time, with those Dominican guys next to the bouncy castle…”

“In any case,” Joe continued, undeterred by our desultory remarks, “If you guys aren’t aware of it, there’s one certain thing about the Jersey market: it booms when certain people want it to happen. Take Hoboken, for example. It went from a heroin den to a valuable commodity that demands Manhattan prices almost overnight. How? Because the right people knew how to make it happen. And it keeps happening everywhere else…but not with Little Peru. Why? Because the people in charge of Little Peru don’t want it to happen.”

I nodded. “Uhhh…yeah, that makes total sense. I mean, that’s why the people of Little Peru voted for their mayor and such. So that she’d look out for them, and that includes trying to prevent yuppies from raising the prices and driving them out of town. You think that they voted for her just because of Free Tortillas Tuesday?”

“There’s a Free Torti…” began Joe, stopping when he noticed that both Octavio and I were smiling and shaking our heads. “Very funny, Peter. But you’re right…Mayor Dwek and her team have so much support because she’s promised to keep the broker and developer wolves at bay. Assuming, of course, that Little Peru’s city hall has only the best of intentions for its people…”

“Order’s ready. Make some room!”

As the order came to our stretch of the counter, the crepuscular horizon was losing its fight to the encroaching nightfall, and much like a flower that unfurls with the breaking dawn, the verdant neon ‘Hamburgers’ sign of the White Mana emerged with effulgent life at the twinkling of the vespers, broadcasting itself on the many television screens that were reflected windows of parked cars in the street. Blocks away, the will-o’-the-wisps of the city began to emerge with the lengthening shadows, as the glows of passed blunts rotated between teenagers on nearby stoops. Nocturnal creatures were awakening from their slumber to invade the darkness…but, here, bathed in fluorescent light and comforting smells, we were safe from it all. Relishing the moment to appreciate our shelter and sustenance, I grabbed the squeezable bottle (i.e., the same red plastic bottle that must exist in every diner in America) in order to dole out a copious amount of ketchup for myself.

“So, Joe,” I said, taking a quick bite of one burger, “You’re implying what about Mayor Dwek? That she’s not just into doing her job? That she’s a politician who uses her constituents as part of an angle to line some of her own pockets?” I grabbed an onion ring. “What’s next? Are you going to tell us that water is wet?”

Joe took another slow bite of his lone slider. “Not at all. But you have to understand that she doesn’t want to use them in some sort of metaphorical way. She wants them literally. She wants their hearts and minds literally. She wants them the same way that we want cows for our burgers.” He put down his slider and looked at Octavio. “Just like she wanted your aunt’s kidneys…and she took them.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Sympathy for a Shadowy Figure

As the patrons of the White Mana diner continued their din and dining, I paused momentarily to collect my thoughts. Even though this dashing figure had the natural upper hand that comes along with an ambush (or, what the pleonasm-loving tubby Mike from my condo building would call “a surprise ambush”), I wasn’t about to show fear in the face of this perfectly coiffed wolf. I leaned a bit back on the counter seat in order to form a V-formation between the three of us, so that I could talk to both Octavio and this stranger simultaneously. That, and I was flirting with the idea of eventually leaning farther back and delivering a devastating kick to that chipper countenance. Of course, I wouldn’t have meant to…I would have just lost my balance. Naturally.

“So, stranger,” I began with a slight drawl, “What brings you to these parts? Looking pretty fancy in those duds…you look like you just stepped out of one of Haddad’s trucks! If they’re shooting a movie, though, I didn’t see any trailers or food tables set up on the street.”

I’m not sure how I had done it…but upon finishing my comment, I took note of the slight surprise evident on his face. Point goes to me…whatever I did. “Thank you, Mr. Bolton,” he said, almost in singsong. “In any case, you’re actually a lot closer to the truth than you may know. At one point in time, I did dabble in acting…but that was some time ago.”

I nodded my head. “And that led right into porn, right? I thought that I recognized you…Listen, there’s no shame in that. Show business is a tough mistress, and hard times fall upon the best of them. I mean, Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren did it, right? And Warwick Davis too, right…or was that one just a rumor? Ever got the chance to work with him?”

The stranger’s smile deflated a tad in response, and he tilted his head slightly…assuring me that he wasn’t missing my joke at his expense. “That’s funny, Mr. Bolton…Or can I call you Pete?”

I shrugged. “Fine by me. I’d call you by your name, but as you already know, someone didn’t bother to tell me yours.” I turned to Octavio briefly. “Apparently, I’m not in the loop.”

Before Octavio could speak in his own defense, the stranger intervened. “Don’t blame Octavio…even though I haven’t known him for long, he seems to be a good kid, and he has nothing but praise for you. It’s not his fault. In fact, you can blame this entire thing on me.” He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Joseph Vasgersian.”

“Okay,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you. So, Joe…Care to tell me what this is all about?” Though I doubted it, Octavio could have been moonlighting as 21 Jump Street, and I had been snared into some sort of ridiculous net to catch middle-aged pot smokers. Unlikely…but in any case, I wasn’t about to voice any of my suspicions. “Or is this just a pointless yet fun way for you to meet new people? Something that you save for the weekends, after all of those porn shoots during the week?”

Flashing his mouth’s inventory of ivory, Joe shook his head. “Nah, my weekends are usually pretty busy, too. Though I thought that we should meet…after all, it’s not everyday that people start poking around to learn more about the red jumpsuits.”

This time, it was my turn to look a little surprised, as much as I attempted to utilize my own thespian skills to look otherwise. “Red jumpsuits? What are you talking about? You may need to take a sabbatical from your salacious work. It’s left you dehydrated and delusional.” Shit…that didn’t sound convincing at all. Even I’m not even buying my own acting here. An infomercial actor would look like Al Pacino next to me right now. Let’s just hope that Mr. Haddad Truck is too dumb to know any better.

Unfortunately for me, he did. “That was a good try, Pete…but I know better. My people learned about Octavio talking to people around Little Peru, asking about the red jumpsuits. Then, I came to Octavio myself, and he told me how the whole thing had started with you.” Observing that I was about to throw another verbal barb into my young friend, he stopped me before I could even swivel my head. “But that was only because I confided in him. He wouldn’t tell me anything until I had gained his trust.”

“Pete, he’s a good guy,” interjected Octavio. “Just listen to him for a few minutes, and you’ll see…”

“That’s okay, Octavio, I got it,” interrupted Joe. “Listen, Pete…I’m a real estate agent, and I’ve been working this area for a couple of decades. During that time, I’ve gotten to know a few power players, and…well, let’s just say that I also serve as a representative for certain parties that would like to remain anonymous. In particular, these people have a keen interest in Little Peru. They’re concerned about injustices being perpetrated on its people…”

Much like Ash Williams, I knew pillow talk when I heard it. You can stop with the emotional gambit…I wasn’t born yesterday, son. I know that there’s another angle in play here. I didn’t arrive on the chicken truck yesterday. But I wasn’t about to reveal that card just yet…so I let him keep talking.

“…and since we heard through the grapevine that you shared our concerns, we decided to approach you. To see if you’d like to join up.”

Now I was confused. “To be what? One of these red jumpsuit guys? I gotta tell you…matching jumpsuits isn’t a good sell for being a cool bunch. I think that I’ll decline, especially since blue is more my color.”

I felt Octavio’s hand on my shoulder, and I turned to face him. “Nah, Pete…remember those diablitos that I was talking about? They’re for real. For real. It’s those red jumpsuits…they’re serious assholes who hurt people like my aunt. But Joe, you see, Joe and his guys are legit. And they want our help to bring them down!”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.