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.