“That can’t be,” Alma Gutierrez said, shaking her head.
“Why not?” Hank Dixon shot back. “It makes money for the university and they get to, you know, what do you call it they do in college … field work, I guess you’d say.”
The two were standing in the laundry room of the Eden Arms. Dixon was installing a new drive belt on one of the dryers. She’d been walking by and he’d called her inside. The handyman continued, “Look, I’m not saying this is for sure, since it comes secondhand.”
“But this man, this gambling friend of your nephew is a lawyer?” The widow Gutierrez didn’t approve of card playing or betting on the horses. Her deceased husband had a gambling habit and more than once had lost the rent money chasing the ponies or doubling down in blackjack.
“Yeah,” Dixon answered while continuing his repair work.
“Ain’t that about nothing,” Macy Farmdale said. “Nine to zip, including the so-called liberals.” She shook her head. “What chance does the working woman have, I ask you.”
Jess Dixon said, “It’s all about keeping the big conveyor belt going, Macy. Us peasants have no choice but to fight and scrabble each day for our rice and beans.”
“Sheeet,” her friend sneered.
The two chuckled mirthlessly. They lamented the recent Supreme Court ruling wherein employees were expected to go through their end of shift security screenings on their own time—no matter if it took five minutes or half an hour.
Farmdale leaned across the lunch table toward the other woman. “This is why we need a union,” she whispered. She leaned back and had more of her chicken salad sandwich.
Jess hunched her shoulders. “That wouldn’t change the ruling. I bet them unions filed, you know,
“Man, what can I do?” DeMarkus Williamson paced, hands on his hips, head down. He was dressed in oversized basketball shorts and a tee.
“Teaflake doesn’t strike me as the forgiving sort.” Little Joe said. “But then again, you didn’t steal his money. He’s a logical cat.”
“Still,” the young man said, gesturing with his hands. “It was my girl that done it, and like he’s gonna believe I wasn’t in on it.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“She made off with a shade over twelve grand. Settin’ me up to be the chump.”
“Shit,” Little Joe said, whistling.
The two were in a rear bedroom in a clapboard house in Richmond. Out a translucent-curtained window, the metal spires of the century-old Chevron refinery could be seen in the near distance. Recently the progressives in the city, outspent mightily to the tune of $3 million by Big Oil backing its hand-picked candidates,
Little Joe had two cowboys, two kings and there was a third king face up on the table. They were playing Texas Hold’em and it had turned up on the flop—the first three cards laid down with two more to go. These were the common cards each player could try and make a hand. In Hold’em, you could play only one card of your two down ones or, if everybody had crap, all could play the five that eventually wound up in the middle of the table. At the moment, his three kings was a pretty good hand to have.
“I’ll see you fifty and I’ll bump it fifty,” Joanie Kriss said confidently. Of the three cards face up on deck, two were clubs. That might mean she had two clubs of her own and was chasing the fifth card in suit to make a flush … or was bluffing. The stakes were not Vegas level;
The two uniformed cops from Southwest Station who’d remained behind stood off to one side as residents of the Eden Arms and their neighbors continued to speculate about the shooting. Various theories were voiced but there was agreement of a sort on some facts derived from the eyewitnesses. A late model Toyota, or it could have been a Honda, rounded the far corner at a normal rate of speed. The vehicle slowed as it approached mid-block where the Arms was located. A smoked passenger window slid down some and a barrel of a gun was then rested on the window. Blam, blam, blam went the gunfire and the car roared away. The odd thing was, the weapon didn’t seem aimed at the few pedestrians around. Rather it seemed to be pointed upward.
The cops speculated the bullet that took out the window to the laundry room was a ricochet, possibly off the metal casing of the switch box on one of the telephone poles.
“Let me say again, we are not there yet. I’m not here to sell you a 50-inch HD flatscreen around the corner for a hundred bucks.” The youthful organizer grinned warmly, her eyes shining behind a pair of stylish eyeglasses. “Since its inception, this company, this giant octopus you all work for, has successfully fought off any effort to organize. Not just shop floor wide, but sector by sector. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a long, protracted struggle.”
Jess Dixon appreciated the woman’s honesty. She figured she wasn’t the only one who’d read on the Internet about the recent loss the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had trying to organize some of the company’s tech and maintenance workers at a facility back east.
“Even in Germany,” the organizer continued, “which is a heavily unionized workforce, you have workers lining up behind the anti-union bandwagon for fear of their jobs going elsewhere.
“Hello again,” a familiar female said to Little Joe, who stood ready for flight or fight on the sidewalk. The woman who spoke leaned out of the Escalade’s open rear door. The pearl black vehicle had stopped near him on the street.
He frowned, recognition blossoming. She’d been the one with Teaflake at the burrito joint. He came closer so as to get a better look inside the SUV. “Hello yourself.” There was only her and a bald-headed driver. Well at least it wasn’t Teaflake, he reflected—though it could be one of his enforcers. He remained wary.
“Can I give you a lift?”
“Is this a rubout?” he said, only half-joking.
She laughed heartily. “You’ve been watching too many of those Jimmy Cagney movies.”
The woman was charming and his curiosity was getting the better of his apprehension. What the hell, he concluded. Dressed in slacks and a ribbed top,
Juanita Evers and Hank Dixon walked into the Mercado La Paloma on Grand at a little past one in the afternoon. The main building had been a garment factory but was now turned into an open space of mom and pop shops. There was one featuring Oaxacan handmade curios, a sports gear seller and various ethnic-style eateries. The place had been developed by a nonprofit.
“How about over there?” Juanita said, pointing to a stall offering Thai food tucked back in a corner of the expanse.
“Okay by me,” Dixon replied. “I could stand some spicy chow.”
They ordered and sat at a nearby table. He said, “You really think the congresswoman can help us?”
“She’s very interested in what the university does and wants it to do right by her constituents.” Juanita was a field deputy for Congresswoman Karen Nelson, whose district included the Eden Arms where Dixon lived.
Night. In this version of the dream, the truck fishtails through the curtain of smoke and flame. Off to the right of her MRAP, the water tanker’s metal skin has split open, sending the liquid treasure everywhere. She watches in stutter shutter clicks as the vehicle’s driver fights to keep that bad boy under control, at the same time zig-zagging past the bombed, burning panel truck.
Corporal Jess Dixon is up top manning the M2 machine gun in the open turret. She swings the weapon about in tight arcs on greased ball bearings, sighting down, wishing for a target as she fires blind. The water tanker hits a slick of burning oil and, brakes screeching, flips, and tons of steel go into a slide. Over her headpiece, not the crackle of her CO, but Whitney Houston singing “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” The armored vehicle clips the tanker, but that ain’t no thing,
“Son of a . . . ”
Splitting a knuckle open, Jess Dixon grunted through gritted teeth. Working to get the rusted wheel nut loose, it had come undone too fast as she wrenched on the tire iron. Her hand banged onto the edge of the wheel well.
Ignoring the pain, she hurried and got done removing the slashed tire and put the spare on and secured it in place on the hub. The spare was not in good shape, worn smooth on one side, the steel belt underneath just about exposed. She didn’t dig her job but she couldn’t be losing it either.
She got her car going and drove to work, hoping she wouldn’t have a blowout on the lousy tire. Because she got up early each morning, and knew how to change a tire and a few other car repairs from her Uncle Hank showing her,
“Am I stutterin’, son?” the green-eyed pleasant-looking man with the perfect teeth said to the tall newcomer standing by his table. Around them the din of the eatery seemed to recede. “There’s no DeMarkus around here.” Like his displeasure, Teaflake made no effort to hide the butt of the Glock sticking out of his waistband.
The young woman sitting with Teaflake smiled understandingly, like she was ushering a patient in for a tooth extraction, Joseph “Little Joe” Dixon reflected.
“Didn’t mean nothing,” he said. “Heard you two was boys is all.” He wasn’t about to back down but wasn’t looking to escalate matters either.
“Who are you?” Teaflake said, his voice low, his enunciation clear and concise, a sharp contrast to the way the usual street hoodlum swallowed vowels and ignored tenses.
Little Joe said, “I’m the new fitness director at Water Stones.” The multi-purpose center was Waterston but everybody called it by its mangled nickname.
“You don’t know what the hell you sayin’,” the red-eyed man blurted. He came off his barstool too fast, knocking it over as he did so. Drunk, he teetered over to Hank Dixon, who’d turned on his stool toward him but remained sitting.
“Best slow your roll, Al,” the one-handed bartender Pierre Gaston said languidly. He took hold of an empty glass between the pincers of his prosthesis. Behind him and above the bottles on a flat screen TV, played a near mute newscast about a truckers’ job action at the port.
“Oh, I’m’a slow somethin’,” Al Griffiths sneered, ignoring the advice. He stood close to the stockier Dixon; Griffiths’ beer and vodka chasers a heavy aroma in the other man’s nose. “You didn’t go around with Juanita. She wouldn’t have had anything to do with you, toilet seat fixer.”
Dixon squinted at his accuser as he sipped on his beer.