“You look like Gatsby, all alone out here.” It was Janice, come to hand him a drink.
“I could use his money,” Deal said. He’d been standing away from the party at the stern of the Mandalay Queen, staring eastward out to sea. The tail end of a perfect south Florida sunset, the water gone steely blue, so calm it was hard to tell where the horizon left off and the mirrored sky took over. A lone pelican up there, now, lumbering through the last of the light toward shore.
“Could we buy this boat, then?”
Deal smiled, still watching the pelican saw its way along. The Queen was a hundred-foot wooden yacht, built in Seattle in the 1920s for a lumber titan. It was laden with teak and brass and was worth several times more than the apartment house Deal was building. To their host, it was just a minor business expense, a kind of floating office. But it was a won- derful boat, and for a moment, Deal had forgotten he would have to be up at six.
It was cool on the water, especially for a June evening, and except for the trio of musicians stationed near the entrance to the stateroom, he’d had the afterdeck to himself. Quiet Cole Porterish music, cocktail chatter like a distant rain shower for background, the glow of one Myers and Coke inside him, and a view of paradise laid out before him. This was why Florida had been invented, he was thinking, trying to jump-start his party mood.
There was a blinking green marker buoy a half mile off to port, marking the way through the shallow waters of the bay. Beyond it, to the east, a group of strange-looking shadows shimmered, looking almost like houses floating above the water. Which is very nearly what they were.
“Stiltsville,” he said, taking the drink. He gestured toward the horizon. “I worked out there one summer. Did you know that?”
She followed his gaze. “No,” she said thoughtfully, “I don’t think you ever said.”
“With Flivey Penfield,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. She was still staring out that way. When she squinted, a fine network of lines gathered near her lips, her eyes, but you’d have to be standing close to see it. Take one step back, she’d look like burnished gold in the last, reflected light. She wore a black party dress that looped around her neck, left her back exposed. He could see the slightest crescent of white where the fabric dipped to cup her breast. “So you must be Daisy,” he said, lifting his drink. He was willing to get into the spirit, he really was.
“I don’t think Daisy ever got pregnant.” She turned, glancing down at her stomach as if there were anything to see there yet. She smiled, but her eyes were solemn. He’d likely caused that, mentioning Flivey—she hadn’t been around when he had died, but it didn’t take much to throw her off. Deal had chalked it up to changing hormones, but felt he was walking on eggs these days.
He glanced toward the main cabin where Thornton Penfield, Flivey’s father, was holding court for a knot of south Florida movers and shakers, hustling backers for a Major League Baseball franchise. The city was in competition with a half dozen others around the country, including two more in Florida.
The prize was that you got to spend ninety-five million dollars for one of the two available spots, shell out another forty or fifty million for startup costs, then endure a decade or so of cellar dwelling, while payroll costs skyrocketed and television revenues plunged. It was no wonder that the baseball commissioner was insisting on “demonstrated fiscal solidity” for successful applicants. And it was no wonder Penfield had had the teak on the yacht refinished. He was desperate for some angels.
There was a banner strung across one end of the teak- paneled room: TROPICS BASEBALL IS COMING. Penfield and Deal’s father had done business together, in the grand old days. Now Flivey was dead, Deal’s father was dead, and DealCo was a shambles. The truth was that he and Janice had been invited to this party for old times’ sake.
She widened her eyes slightly. “I don’t know how you’d get over something like that.”
“You don’t,” Deal said. He could suddenly see Flivey as clearly as he saw Janice now. “You work yourself so hard you can’t think about anything else for twenty years.” He had another swallow of his drink. “When you get tired of that you try and start a baseball team.”
She gave him a look. “You should talk, Deal. We haven’t been out in a month.”
It was bait he nearly went for, but he forced himself to calm. He shrugged, finished his drink. “It’s a nice night,” he said, tightly. “Let’s enjoy it.”
“You’re right,” she said, her tone just as strained. How quickly these skirmishes came, like squalls blowing in off the bay. “Baby can stand one drink,” she said brightly, patting her stomach.
“What’ll it be,” he said.
“No.” She put her hand on his arm. “I’ll get it.” And then she was moving across the deck toward the crowd.
Three or four drinks later, Deal found himself in the stuffy main cabin talking to a blond woman in a black sheath dress. “You’re a developer?” Her hair was swept up in tousled ringlets, her pale skin almost translucent. Her lipstick was so dark her mouth seemed like a bruise.
“It depends upon who you ask.” He had caught sight of Janice at the other end of the room, a dark-haired man in an Italian suit leaning over her, his back to Deal. The man was speaking earnestly at her ear. Janice toyed with a drink, nodding as if she were listening, but her eyes were on the musicians who worked earnestly at a samba. She was in her element, Deal had to admit. And they hadn’t been out in a long time.
Christ, she was the most beautiful woman on the boat, he thought. He’d seen the other men, the old guys, the young guys, the waiters, the musicians, all of them popping a glance her way when they got a chance. And who could blame them. It wasn’t just the way she looked. It was the way she was. For an instant, he felt like Rapunzel’s keeper.
“You’re good at this, aren’t you?”
It was the blond again. He turned. She had an olive speared on a toothpick, was rolling it across her lower lip. She flicked her tongue out, and the olive disappeared. “With this cocktail chat, I mean.”
Deal thought about maneuvering her into the galley, or one of the staterooms down the hall. Maybe that’s what was going down here. They could go at it standing up, be back for canapés in fifteen minutes. He’d be doing it for spite, and it wouldn’t do him a damn bit of good.
“I’m a just a friend of the family,” he said to the blond, and moved away.
“John Deal,” he said, as he wedged himself between Janice and the man in the suit. Janice looked up, startled. Deal had taken a deep breath. He had put on his most amiable smile. And if the guy so much as looked crosswise at him he was going to jerk him out across the deck and pitch him into the bay.
“Of course,” the man said, turning to him, extending his own hand smoothly. “We have met.”
Deal stopped short.
“I am Raoul Alcazar,” the man was saying.
Deal stared. It was true, they had met, a couple years before, but it was hard to believe it was the same man. He’d lost twenty pounds, learned how to dress, found a good barber. If he hadn’t known where he’d come from, how he’d come by his money, he might have mistaken him for a European financier.
“The Latin Builders’ Association party,” Deal said, finally. “When they opened the Centrust Building.”
“Exactly.” Alcazar beamed, as if Deal had passed some kind of quiz. Deal wasn’t sure why Alcazar would want him to remember.
Deal and Janice had been among the few Anglos at that party, the others being politicians and lobbyists. Deal suspected the invitation had been a mistake, but Janice had wanted to see the Centrust corporate offices, which were rumored to give bacchanalian excess new meaning.
He’d left her by a Modigliani sculpture in a foyer while he went off for drinks, had come back to find her pinned to the wall by Alcazar, then a Hialeah city councilman with the look of a used-car salesman. When Deal arrived, Alcazar had backed off Janice and suggested there was great opportunity for builders in Hialeah public housing. Deal thanked him for the advice and took Janice out on the terrace.
Alcazar had even called the office a couple of times afterward, but Deal had never gotten back to him. Alcazar had since moved out of government and into business in a big, if shady, way. He’d been called before at least two grand juries investigating influence peddling, but nothing had come of it.
Now, here he was, in a suit John Gotti would envy, a little gray at his temples, his accent cleaned up, hitting on his wife again.
He took the man’s hand, testing. Surprising strength. Deal gave some back. Alcazar nodded, gauging Deal as well.
“You’re interested in baseball?” Deal said, skeptical. Involving Alcazar in a franchise would be like trying to put Pete Rose on your board of directors.
“Everyone from my country is interested in baseball,” Alcazar said. “As I was telling your lovely wife, I am simply here to show my support.”
Deal glanced at Janice who gave him an amused smile.
I’m not responsible for these men, she seemed to say. “I read about you in the papers,” Deal said.
Alcazar dismissed it with a wave. “Your enemies will try anything.” He shrugged, his face almost mournful for a moment. “For money.”
“Anything for money,” Deal nodded. “Some people are like that.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Janice pretended to watch the band.
“And you, Mr. Deal,” Alcazar said. Composed. A predator’s face. A man who sprinkled his morning cereal with chopped razor blades. And as assured as if he’d had a look at the pathetic condition of the DealCo books. “How are things going for you?”
“Hanging in there,” Deal said, without missing a beat. He raised his glass to Alcazar and smiled. He was wondering how that expensive suit was going to hold up in salt water. “Good,” Alcazar said. “I wish you the best. And now if you will excuse me…” He raised his own glass in a gesture of farewell.
“It has been a pleasure,” he said. Janice turned and gave him a smile.
They stood together for a moment, watching Alcazar weave his way out through the crowd.
“I felt like we were on a playground,” Janice said. Deal glanced at her. “You know who that guy is?” She shrugged. “He reminded me.”
“I’ll bet. Did he bring up his indictments?”
“He was telling me how interesting American women were. We’re smart. We demand to be taken as individuals. He says woman from his country could learn something from us.”
Deal turned. “Jesus Christ. You believe that? He was climbing down the front of your dress.”
She laughed. “Really, Deal, relax. I saw you talking to Madonna over there in the corner.”
Deal rolled his eyes, but still glanced across the room. The blond had disappeared. “You about ready?” he asked.
“In a minute,” she said. “I like this group.”
The trio was playing something more languid now, some jazz standard he couldn’t quite place. There were couples swaying to the music on the afterdeck. “Want to dance?” he said.
She gave him a speculative look. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’m just listening.”
He took a deep breath. It was like taking a test to which there was no correct response. “I’m going to get a drink,” he said. And walked off.
# # #
“Johnny-boy!” Deal had had three drinks, in fact, and was weaving slightly as he made his way back across the crowded room. He felt himself being pulled off course, and turned to find Thornton Penfield toasting him with a full glass. “You’re dry, Johnny.”
Deal tried to protest, but Penfield made a gesture and a waiter darted toward them. “I want you to meet Terrence Terrell, Johnny.” Deal glanced at the fortyish man by Penfield’s side. A deep tan, a flat belly, a sport coat, and a polo shirt. This was Gatsby, Deal found himself thinking, blearily.
“Mr. Terrell’s down from Palm Beach,” Penfield said. “You know Jobe Computers. This is John Deal, DealCo Construction.”
Deal looked at Terrell again as they shook hands, finally registering things. No wonder the guy looked at ease. Net worth some factor of the Gross National Product, you’d have to look good.
“Commercial or residential?” Terrell asked. “Whatever comes along,” Deal said.
Terrell pursed his lips, nodded. “These are difficult times,” he said. Deal wondered what Terrell’s concept of difficulty was, in fact.
“That string of condos down Brickell,” Penfield said, pointing out the window at the glittering city skyline. “That’s DealCo work.”
Terrell glanced out, then back at Deal, a glimmer of interest there now. Deal shrugged. Typical Penfield bullshit. His father had built the condos, and what they lost had finished off the company for all practical purposes. But let Terrell think what he wanted. Deal was going to find Janice, get them the hell out of there.
“I’ve been trying to convince Mr. Terrell that we’re a baseball town, John. We could use him in our group.”
Deal seemed to think about it. He gave Penfield a studied look. “You bring him in, I want my ten million back.”
There was a stunned moment of silence, then Penfield exploded into laughter and clapped Deal on the shoulder. “That’s good, Johnny.” Deal took the drink the waiter brought, toasted Penfield and Terrell with it. His head was swimming with the drinks, with fatigue.
Terrell smiled. “Actually, I’ve been telling Mr. Penfield much the same thing. I’m not accustomed to group ownership. It’s not my style.”
Deal nodded. It wasn’t reasonable to begrudge Terrell his fortune. At least he had done it all himself, if you could believe the stories. Maybe they’d have been buddies in another world, cutting deals over tennis.
“That’s all right,” Penfield said. “I told him, he buys enough shares, he can do anything he wants.” Penfield laughed and put his arm around Deal again. “Good to see you, Johnny. Where’s that pretty wife of yours?”
Deal glanced at the corner where he’d left Janice, but now she was gone. “More than you know…” the bandleader was crooning. The afterdeck was crowded with couples now and he felt an unreasoning stab of anxiety.
“I was just going to find her,” Deal said. He nodded at Terrell, already on his way out of the cabin. “Nice meeting you. Buy the team, Mr. Terrell.”
Penfield raised his glass. “Better keep track of that one, Johnny,” Penfield was saying. “And think about that offer we had…” but Deal had already spotted her outside and was gone.
# # #
They were alone in the water taxi—brought over from Venice, the captain had volunteered on the way out— heading from The Queen’s mooring back to the hotel docks where they’d left the car. Deal had his head back over the cushions, his feet up on the seat across from them. He watched the still-blazing Queen recede in the distance behind them. “Maybe we could call off morning,” he said. He put his hand on her leg.
“I had a nice time,” she said. She put her hand atop his. Laced their fingers together.
A hopeful sign, he thought. “We’ll have to start getting out more,” he said, nudging his hand higher.
“Deal,” she said, pushing it back.
“It’s okay,” he said. “The captain won’t mind.” “Deal!”
“Really. The owner’s a friend of mine.” And so it went until he fell asleep.
# # #
“Janice, all I said was maybe we could try to cut back for a while.” He sat on the edge of the bed, trying to will his headache away.
She came to the bathroom door and took the toothbrush out of her mouth. She’d pulled off the T-shirt she’d slept in. “There’s a baby on the way,” she said, mildly. “We’re going to need things.” She glanced around the bedroom, their fur- niture crowding every space, waved her arm about. “We need a bigger place.”
Deal nodded, still staring at her. It was only her second month, but there were signs. Deal liked that, her changing that way. He found himself aroused. He remembered they’d started something last night, but he’d been so tired…
“I know,” he said. “Things are tight. But we have to take the long view. By the time the baby’s here…” he trailed off, suggesting a future of endless possibility.
She wiped toothpaste from the corner of her mouth, giving herself a moment. “By then,” she said, “we’ll be bankrupt.”
He wanted to say something, but he wasn’t sure what. Every argument seemed weary, even to him. Janice stuck the toothbrush back in her mouth and disappeared into the bathroom.
Deal swung his legs down from the bed and sighed. He felt exhausted, as if he’d spent the entire night running in place. He was almost weary enough to do it: Forget DealCo and all the hassle, take the supervisor’s job with Kendale Homes. Security, security, security. Maybe it was the smart thing to do.
He reached for the television remote and pointed it at the tiny set that rested on their dresser. The face of a local weatherman congealed gradually and Deal pressed the volume button in time to hear “…back to a normal summer pattern, high in the low nineties, an eighty percent chance of thundershowers. We’ll keep an eye on those developing tropical waves for you.”
“Terrific,” he said, flipping the channel.
He caught a brief glimpse of a reporter finishing a standup in front of a burned-out gas station, police milling about in the background. The place looked familiar but the image faded into another weatherman about to proclaim the same sad news. Deal snapped off the set and stood up.
He was pawing through his sock drawer, looking for a mate to the only white one he’d come across, when Janice came out of the bathroom in her walking gear. She had gotten involved with a group from the condo, and he was glad for that, though he suspected they encouraged her more extravagant tastes.
Her dark hair was pulled back beneath a sweat band, her breasts hidden now under a spandex top. She wore a dark leotard beneath that, and white socks crumpled in rolls at her sneaker tops. She looked like the kid he’d met fifteen years ago.
Something in his gaze must have caught her. She stopped and sighed, then came to him. “Oh, Deal,” she said. She looked at him sadly for a moment, then reached to kiss him on the cheek.
She started to pull away, but Deal held on. “I’m late,” she said.
“Be late,” he said, nuzzling her.
“Deal,” she said. But she arched her neck at the touch of his lips.
He edged them backward, toward the bed. He licked the underside of her ear. “They’re waiting on me,” she said, but her breath was quickening.
They toppled over onto the bed. “I’m already dressed,” she said.
Deal had his hand hooked under the band of her leotard. “Not for long,” he said, his own voice thick, his fingers probing. “Oh, Deal,” she said again, lifting her hips against him.
And then he was lost in the heat and the musk and the dampness.
# # #
Though his eyes were closed, Deal had convinced himself that he was floating on a diving raft somewhere in the middle of a broad lake rimmed by snowcapped mountains. Where he lay, it was warm and pleasant, the planks as soft as cotton, the sun beating down on his bare body, drying him. There was a faint scent of jasmine, and of sex, and the comforting touch of Janice’s shoulder at his side. Only the slightest trembling of the raft to disturb him and the sound of quiet sobbing.
Sadness, he thought. How could there be sadness in such a lovely world? And then he came awake.
Janice lay with her back toward him, her shoulders shuddering, her face pressed into a pillow. Deal pressed his eyes closed momentarily, longing for the dream to take him up again, but what he saw instead was an image of fighter planes swooping low, strafing a deserted beach. He was in the picture somewhere, a gaunt man shaking a stick at the planes, his eyes as crazed as Job’s.
He opened his eyes and moved close to her, his chin tucked over her shoulder. How many times had this happened, would it happen?
“Janice,” he said. He reached to move the pillow from her face. Her eyes were squeezed tight, her cheeks streaked with tears.
“Janice?” he repeated. He raised himself up and placed his hand on her shoulder. With his other hand, he began to knead the tautness at the base of her neck. Her sobbing began to subside. He moved both hands to her shoulders and pressed his thumbs into the long muscles of her back.
Gradually, he felt the tightness fading, and after a few moments she sat up, wiping at her cheeks with a corner of the tangled sheet. She took a deep breath, her hands folded in her lap.
“I’m trying to make this work,” she said, staring at her hands. “I am. I am.”
Deal had the odd sensation that she was talking to herself, that he was not even in the room at all, and he put his hand atop hers to reassure himself.
She glanced up at him. “I’m not going crazy, if that’s what you think.”
“I know,” Deal said. “I know.”
“Sometimes, things just get to be too much,” she said. Deal nodded. “I’m going to take care of everything, Janice.
You don’t have to worry.”
She glanced around the room again, and Deal saw it as an accusation. They’d had to sell the house in the Shores, almost a year ago now, and though they’d tried to keep contact, they’d apparently left most of their friends behind in the move. It had gotten to be a big city, Deal thought sadly. And he’d been so busy, busting his ass trying to stay afloat, that he hadn’t had time to put much of a personal life back together.
“Mr. Penfield told me he wanted to talk to you last night,” Janice said, breaking into his thoughts.
She was staring at him. “Well, did he?”
Deal felt the awful weariness piling down on him again. He’d managed to drive it away for a bit, and here it was, climbing back on his shoulders, ready to ride him around until he dropped, if it could.
He sighed. “He said he had somebody else interested in the fourplex.”
“I told him the same as last time. We weren’t interested.”
She stared at him. “What was the offer?” Deal shrugged. “Three sixty-two five.”
She nodded. “That means you could get three seventy-five.” “Maybe.”
“The land is clear. Subtract the construction loan, that leaves nearly a quarter of a million dollars.” Her expression was determinedly neutral.
“Which we could piss away.”
She threw up her hands. “I don’t understand you. Look at how we live. We could buy a house…”
“We can’t sell the fourplex, Janice.” He was trying to keep his patience.
“You mean you won’t.”
Deal bit his lip, trying to keep his voice even. “We don’t want to sell when the market’s down. We have to finish the building. Then we rent it out. We’ll have something to put down where it says ‘assets’ on the balance sheet. And a little cash coming in besides. We use that all to finance the next project. Then we can sell. Times get better, the property will be worth another hundred thousand, finished and generating income. We’ll be on the road again.”
She seemed about to snap back at him, but forced herself to calm. “Deal, you’re building an apartment in a place where nobody wants to live. If it were worth anything, your father would have built on it when he was still alive. If it were a good investment, Mr. Penfield wouldn’t advise you to sell it. If he can find someone to buy it, take him up on it, for God’s sake.”
“He means well,” Deal said. “That neighborhood’s coming back.”
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head in resignation. She turned and swung her legs over the side of the bed, bent to pick up her wadded clothes.
“It’s not just you and me any longer, Janice. That’s the whole point. I sell out now, it’s all over. I’ll end up working for wages the rest of my life, we’ll never get anywhere. That’s not what I want for my family.”
She turned to him. “Let me get this straight. You’d sell the building if it weren’t for us?”
He threw up his hands. “Selling isn’t the point. Hanging on is the point. Doing what you have to do until things get better. Believing in yourself, that what you do is right…” He knew his voice was rising, that any moment she would turn away, that he would lose her. “Janice,” he said, quietly. “It’s for us. For all of us.”
She stared at him in silence, taking it in. Her anger seemed to have faded. He doubted he’d convinced her. But at least she was thinking about what he’d said, and that was a victory of sorts.
After a moment, she glanced away.
“Look at this,” she said, absently. She’d unfolded the leotard, was staring at a tear Deal had opened in the fabric.
“I thought it was kind of exciting,” he said.
She paused, then glanced up at him, finally gave him the smile he’d been angling for. “It was,” she said.
“Let’s try it without the clothes,” he said, reaching for her hand.
But she was up and hurrying down the hall. “Go to work, Deal.” She turned and shook her head. “Just go and get the damn thing built.”
# # #
Deal was moving across what had been an empty traffic lane when it happened. Some idiot barreling up from nowhere, heading for the same open spot. Deal, still feeling prickly from the argument with Janice—as if he’d bullied her into silence—never thought of backing off. He’d made his move, had been there first. He cut his wheels and settled in.
It was a black Supra, the windows smoked as dark as the paint, filling up his rearview mirror now. They were doing sixty-five, locked in by morning commuters on either side and the guy was maybe six inches off his tail.
Deal saw the Supra’s headlights roll up, the lamps flash. The guy had to be crazy. There was a Sunshine bread delivery truck a few feet in front of them, Deal close enough to read the “Bring Baseball to the Tropics” sticker on its bumper.
There was a flatbed carrying a load of coconut palms to the left, a pair of old school buses painted white taking up the right. Even if he’d been inclined to let the asshole past— which he wasn’t—there was no place to go.
Deal glanced up at the windows of the nearest bus. Rows and rows of white-turbaned blacks, staring implacably into the blaze of sun that was just clearing the bank towers downtown. Yahwehs, he thought. Two bus loads of Yahwehs going somewhere at seven thirty in the morning.
He didn’t know much about them—they dressed like some of the Black Muslims he’d encountered in college, back in the 1960s—but they seemed interested in things material as well as spiritual. They had bought up a bunch of hotsheet motels around Seventy-ninth and Biscayne, which they had proceeded to paint black and white, with the emphasis on white. They were renting most of the motels, using some for temples, schools, whatever. A couple of coats of paint and tropical sleaze becomes Morocco.
He glanced back at the Supra, which had inched closer to his bumper. Deal thought about slamming on his brakes— let the guy pile into him, use the insurance money to cover a paint job for The Hog, which had begun a serious fade from sitting out so much. Ever since they’d had to let the house go and move into the condo, he’d let Janice use the one underground spot for her VW.
He lifted his foot from the accelerator, tapped his brakes lightly. The Supra fell back abruptly. Think about it, friend. Deal stared into the mirror, willing his thoughts backward. The sun was a white blaze on the Supra’s windshield—no way to see who might be driving. It closed in again as Deal accelerated.
One of the Yahwehs—a big guy who looked like it’d take two sheets to wrap him—glanced down at Deal, then back at the Supra. The man’s gaze came back to rest on Deal. He lifted his brows as if to ask a question, then he turned back to stare at whatever his buddies had discovered.
Deal remembered a recent news story. A pimp who’d had a certain interest in one of the motels transformed by the Yahwehs had come around to discuss things. A couple of big Yahwehs showed up and the pimp landed in the emergency ward at Jackson, a fracture in each of his arms and legs. There’d been some outcry about it, but the pimp lobby at city hall wasn’t very influential. Besides, the cops had been trying to clean up Seventy-ninth and Biscayne for years. If the Yahwehs could accomplish that, the city would probably let them paint the streets and the palm trees white. Deal saw his exit sign loom up overhead, then flash past.
He’d been asleep. Only a quarter mile to the exit and two more lanes to cut across. He backed off the accelerator again and heard the whine of the Supra behind him as it dropped a gear. Fuck him. Deal had subs to check on at the job site. Miss this exit, he’d have to go all the way across the river, then be stuck in the hospital traffic coming back. Turn up late and the subs would have long since declared another holiday.
It was tough, fighting this traffic every morning. He was used to heading the other way, against the river of cars heading downtown. For years, construction had been moving west, nibbling inexorably toward the Everglades. GDC, Kendale Homes, DealCo, munching away at the vegetable farms, reclaiming wetlands, throwing up subdivisions and office parks, metro council falling all over itself to issue permits and variances. But times changed, boom had slid into bust. GDC under indictment. DealCo wasted away. Others vanished completely. Only Kendale hanging on, so far. The lot where Deal was building his fourplex was saved from the days when there had been a real company, when his old man had been alive, when, in his old man’s words, “you didn’t need an interpreter to get a chalkline snapped.”
Deal had never minded working with Hispanics. After all, he’d started in as a grunt working alongside the other framers and rough carpenters, more and more of whom spoke Spanish as the stream of immigrants from Cuba and points south increased to a flood. He’d picked up enough of the language to get by, was reasonably fluent in the basic topics of conversation on the job: carpentry, food, baseball, getting laid.
No, it wasn’t accommodating himself to another language that bothered him. Furthermore, he admired the industry of the immigrants, even those his old man considered “pushy.” As far as Deal was concerned, they had a right. They’d been fucked over at home, wherever that was, and now they had come over here and were desperate to make it, simple as that. No, he had no problems with that. It was just that it was getting harder and harder for Deal to keep his own little part of the pie.
Right now, he was a month shy of the due date on his construction loan, with maybe six weeks of work to go and the rainy season cranking up. He needed dry weather. He needed to kick the subs into hyperdrive…or else he needed to do as Janice wanted and sell out.
Meanwhile, the Yahwehs had finally inched ahead. Deal glanced over his shoulder and motioned to a woman in a minivan. She waved him in. He cut his wheels, then winced at a shrieking of brakes behind him. The Supra had rammed in on his tail, nearly clipping the minivan, which had begun to fishtail wildly.
Deal hit his own brakes instinctively, but felt a surge of panic when nothing happened. Because the traffic ahead was slowing for the tollgates, The Hog actually seemed to pick up steam. He glanced down wildly, hoping to see he’d somehow hit the accelerator, but sure enough, it was the brake pedal that was slowly sinking toward the floor.
The sonsofbitches, Deal thought, even as The Hog rushed toward the back of the Yahweh bus that loomed ahead. He’d had The Hog in to the dealer three times for the brakes. First, they’d said it was shoes. Then, after he’d picked it up to find there was still no pedal, they’d said the cylinders were leaking. The last time, they’d flushed the lines and replaced the master cylinder. It had been doing fine for three days. Until now.
Two of the Yahwehs sitting in the back of the bus, flanking the emergency door, had turned and were staring in alarm as Deal closed in. It was a converted school bus, with a high ass-end, and the two women were probably going to be safe. With any luck, The Hog would slide in under the floorboards of the bus, just about windshield level. The frame girders of the bus would come through The Hog on a line with Deal’s skull.
They were on the bridge approach now, climbing slightly toward the toll plaza. Deal checked the traffic to his right, found a solid wall of commuters checking for change, switching stations, applying lipstick, no one aware of his plight.
The Supra, meanwhile, had not left his tail. Just behind, at the bottom of the hill, the minivan had broadsided to a stop, blocking the two right lanes. A roofer’s ancient pickup towing a wheeled tar pot slammed on its brakes and swerved to avoid the minivan. As the pickup jounced onto the shoulder, the tar pot tipped to the right and broke loose from the tow bar. The thing passed the pickup like it had been shot out of a sling, then slammed into a light stanchion. Deal knew about breakaway poles, how they’d been designed to reduce fatalities, but he had never seen one in action. He’d always doubted the principle, in fact. How could you hit one of the massive looking things and not die?
The tar pot did die. It hit the pole and exploded, sending a wave of black over a bright new Cadillac just ahead. The pole, meantime, fell like a fighter going into the tank. It crashed down across the roofer’s pickup and the minivan, showering sparks and glass across the lanes.
Ahead of him, the rear of the bus blossomed huge. The two Yahwehs were fighting to reach the aisle. They have seen the coming of the apocalypse, Deal thought. The Supra bore down mindlessly from behind. At least, he’d take that bastard out with him.
He was staring at the big block letters EMERGENCY EXIT stenciled across the back of the bus when his hand locked on The Hog’s brake lever at his side, but there had been no connection in his mind. It was all reflex as he jerked up hard on the emergency brake and felt himself begin to spin, out of control.
He saw the headlights of the Supra flash by, and felt a small surge of satisfaction—imagine the look on the bastard’s face—as he braced himself for a collision. “You could have done it smoothly, Deal,” he was thinking. “You might have applied gentle pressure to that emergency brake. Everything would have turned out all right.”
He caught sight of the Yahwehs again, but too quickly to see how they were taking it. He saw a gull wheel past, thought he heard its scream, saw another lamp dome whiz overhead like a spaceship, the Supra again, a Cadillac with a horrifying black paint job, a flash of concrete, an abrupt thump, somebody groaning, then silence.
He was turned around, The Hog pointing its snout back down the bridge approach toward a knot of chaos that had closed off all the traffic behind him. The minivan looked as if a giant had karate-chopped it. The Cadillac had slid to a stop and was steaming in the sun. Someone was struggling to get the driver’s door open, but the thick tar, which had lapped down over the roof, would only give so far.
The roofer’s crew had stepped down from the pickup to stare nervously at their ruined tar pot and the light pole that still sputtered ominous sparks. Deal heard something and turned to stare through the open passenger window of The Hog. The Supra sat idling in the lane beside him, its exhaust pulsing like a heartbeat.
Deal stared as the heavily smoked window opposite slid down. There was no passenger. The driver, a blocky Latin, leaned his way, though his face stayed mostly in shadow. The man was wearing a dark suit with threads that glinted in the sun, a gray silk shirt, a dark red tie. When he raised his hand, Deal saw the pistol, most likely a .357. The barrel seemed immense. Deal felt his entire head slipping down the tube, his bowels watering, greasing the long slide down. It seemed very quiet for rush hour. He could hear the tinny voices of the Haitian roofers down below, the burble of the Yahweh buses up ahead, at the tollgates. He wondered if the Yahwehs would bear witness to his death.
And for what? Because he’d broken the south Florida commandment? Thou shall not cut a man off in traffic.
Abruptly, the whooping of a siren broke the silence. The man in the Supra raised his eyes to his rearview mirror. A police cruiser was picking its way through the tangle of traffic behind them.
Deal saw the man’s thumb move to the hammer of the pistol, saw the hammer ease back to its rest.
“You must be more careful,” the man inside the Supra said, over the hum of the car’s exhaust. “You don’t know who’s out here. You could die.”
Deal heard regret in the voice. Sure, he could understand that. Try to run a guy off the road, you can’t. Then you want to blow him away and here the fucking cops show up. Hell of way to start your morning.
More sirens whooped in the background. “Have a nice day,” Deal said.
But the smoked window was already rising. And then the Supra was gone.