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Banana Republic

Banana Republic

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Banana Republic

Length:
461 pages
6 hours
Released:
Nov 29, 2021
ISBN:
9781622538270
Format:
Book

Description

When criminal elements collide, the rules of the jungle will prevail, and those unprepared will pay the highest price.

"A piña colada with rum, bullets, and bloodshed. This Banana Republic should come with a travel advisory." ~ Jim Hamilton, Author of "The Last Entry"

Richie Makepeace flees to South America after being framed for a double-murder in Miami. He settles in La Vaca, a classic tiny town on the edge of the Colombian jungle, and meets Vicki Freeman, a top fashion model with a thing for "bad boys." While Richie resists falling for her, she and her rich boyfriend devise a wild, "adventurous" plan that relies on Richie helping them.

Richie does not want to get involved, but with cash running out, he concedes and sets it all up. He should have known it would lead to chaos, backstabbing, and bloodshed.

"Should be taught in Thrillers 101! Taut, twisty, and filled with danger at every turn!" ~ Ty Spencer Vossler, Author of "Deep Mud"

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a Crime Thriller / Hard-Boiled Mystery sure to keep you frantically flipping the pages. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY GLENN A. BRUCE:

  • "Banana Republic: Richie's Run"
  • "Race!: A Colorful Hei$t Story"
  • "Rubric"
  • "The Man"
  • "Versions of the Truth"

MORE GREAT CRIME THRILLERS FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • The "Denny McConnell PI" Series by Kent Swarts
  • The "Payden Beck Crime Thriller" Series by Michael Golvach
  • The "PI Kowalski" Series by Chris Krupa
  • "The Oz Files" Series by Barry Metcalf
  • "Forgive Me, Alex" by Lane Diamond

 

Released:
Nov 29, 2021
ISBN:
9781622538270
Format:
Book

About the author

Glenn A. Bruce wrote the hit movie Kickboxer, and wrote for Walker: Texas Ranger, Baywatch, the original G.L.O.W. Show, and Cinemax’s Assaulted Nuts. He holds an MFA from Lindenwood University and was an associate professor at Appalachian State University for over 12 years where he taught Screenwriting, Acting for the Camera, and Video Production, which resulted in several awards for writing and directing. Glenn has had over 50 short stories, essays, and poems published in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and India. He currently judges a tri-annual short story contest, writes 1-2 screenplays per year, and recently finished his 17th novel.


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Banana Republic - Glenn A. Bruce

PART ONE - Flight

Late 1995....

Chapter 1 – The Alley

The mid-season storm formed in Canada and quickly made like snowbirds racing south for the winter. By the time its gale-strength winds hit South Florida to join forces with thick Caribbean moisture, local weathermen were warning of flooding like we haven’t seen since Hurricane Cleo in 1964.

Rain came down in thick, slashing sheets at first but soon felt like a solid waterfall, as if there were no spaces between the heavy drops. After one of the driest winters in recorded history, the massive amounts of water did not soak into the ground but puddled like mini-Okeechobees all over the county. Local news predicted two- to three-feet floods in places. Kendall went on high alert while kids canoed the streets.

Water filled the lobbies of hotels on Miami Beach, residents in low-lying areas evacuated as drainage canals overflowed, Army Corps of Engineers opened flood control gates in the Everglades, and insurance adjusters ran for the high hills, checkbooks and pre-written claim denials based on industry-accepted actuarial tables tightly in hand. Ark jokes abounded.

As Richie Makepeace ran through a soggy alley on the west edge of downtown—south of the main Puerto Rican section of Miami, a few years after the infamous December 3rd Wynwood Riot but before its artsy gentrification—the only words running through his mind were: Why tonight, of all nights? That and wondering if he would live to see the end of this storm. Nothing had been going right. Now this.

The torrential rain and puddles slowed Richie down, his soaking-wet clothes adding ten pounds. On the run, it felt more like a hundred. After two miles, lifting his sloshing boots out of six inches of standing runoff became one small agony after another—each footfall bringing him closer to his certain end.

The suitcase-sized aluminum Halliburtons he carried in each hand had long since turned his arms to Jell-O. Who’d have thought a few hundred grand could weigh so much? Must be small bills, he kept thinking. That, and what the fuck had he been thinking, stealing this much drug money from Joe Lalo? All he’d had to do was walk away.

But no, I had to get cute.

When he rounded a vaguely familiar corner, Richie couldn’t remember for sure if the street had an outlet, so he chose the alley. He knew downtown well from years of working the streets in various capacities; but in the dense downpour, everything started looking the same. When he glanced up to check the skyline for a clue—not more than a half-second—his right foot dropped into a calf-deep milky puddle. Inertia threw his full weight down and forward, his left shin crashing into the far lip of crumbling asphalt.

Richie landed chest-first just past the old pothole large enough to seat four comfortably if it weren’t so damn cold. His hands reflexively shot out to protect his face and upper body, the weighty cases slapping down on the standing water and hydroplaning away with such speed it felt as if his arms were being yanked out of their sockets. When his body mass caught up, forward momentum reversed, and his shoulders shoved back into his body as hard as if he’d run into a brick wall.

Richie ended up in a soaked, moaning ball, but had no time to dwell on the pain. He was up and slogging as fast as he could in two seconds—two seconds that meant Joe Lalo and his boys were ten steps closer to killing him.

As the end of the alley loomed closer, forming a T with a narrow street, Richie hoped there’d be an exit on one side or the other. There fucking better be. Joe Lalo wasn’t the kind of guy to ask nicely for the two Halliburtons then send Richie home to Theresa with a friendly pat on the back and some advice to not rip him off again.

No, Joe Lalo was a brutal bastard who delighted in other people’s pain and suffering—especially if they had wronged him. Even more so if the wrong involved untold amounts of tax-free cash. But he didn’t need that trigger. Any reason was reason enough for Joe Lalo—say, the ‘fins losing on Sunday. Or winning.

In the twenty-two years since his eighteenth birthday, Joe Lalo had murdered six men. Killing made him feel alive. He’d told that to every one of the six before slaying them. Now, as Lalo would see it, Richie had committed the ultimate crime, betraying the Honor Among Thieves provision of the Criminal Credo that Lalo espoused loudly and often. Violate that in any way and he’d have your kneecaps, followed by every other body part in the most painful order he could dream up. Of course, he’d also do it to anyone walking down the street if he was in a bad mood. His usual static state.

Tonight, Joe Lalo would be in a terrible mood. He hated being ripped off more than just about anything—more than overpaying for a lap-dance or lawnmowing, car detailing or an iced latté; more than being stopped by a Carnival Airlines bitch for having a carry-on too large for the overhead bin. He’d once come close to strangling a flight attendant for bringing him tea instead of coffee, but the pursuant interrogation would have made him late for his connection in Bogota.

Another time, when a dental assistant had accidentally sent Joe a $600 bill for getting his teeth cleaned, instead of $60, Joe had paid the bill and avoided drawing attention to himself. Then he’d had the woman kidnapped, raped, and both hands chopped off. She’d bled to death in her dentist’s backyard while he was on vacation in France.

Joe Lalo hated getting ripped off more than anything—except betrayal. Richie’s offense combined both. If Lalo caught him tonight...

Thinking of this, Richie ran a little faster, ignoring the increasing pain in his shin and shoulders. Good thing, because a second later, Rance, the fastest of Joe’s Boyz, rounded the corner behind Richie, shouting and shooting on the run.

Motherfucker! I’ll kill you, you motherfucker! Rip us off! As if it was his money.

Rance was fast but unoriginal, and he had better legs than aim. Sparks flew off the fire-escape to Richie’s right, then off the Paul’s Stationery van to his left, then off a streetlight. Richie pushed himself faster. But the next moment, Raul, another of Joe’s Boyz, ran into the alley. With Rance ahead of him, Raul didn’t shoot—not the case with Lalo who was right behind him.

Joe fired his Sig Sauer P229 past Rance and Raul, not seeming to care if he hit either or both as long as he got Richie. Apparently used to this, both had already shifted to the left to avoid getting shot in the back by their boss, knowing that, to get a better bead, Lalo would take the right side, firing like a cracked-up gangbanger. Luckily, he hit only inanimate objects, killing a few garbage cans, a light pole, a plate glass window—and then a cat that became instantly inanimate.

Richie ran as fast as he could, edging into the bleak poverty of Overtown as he took the next corner onto a side street, momentarily putting him out of their sight.

Lalo’s good-looking, slowpoke sycophant, Tommy, finally rounded the corner in last place. Almost a dead ringer for Richie, Tommy was the best dressed of the gang. That changed when he took the middle route and plunged into the big pothole.

With no Halliburtons to break his fall, Tommy took a head-first dive into the gaping rain-pool and ran his face full-force into the jagged asphalt of the far side. He came up spitting white water, blood trickling from the bridge of his nose as Lalo shouted, Get up, get up! Get the fuck up! and fired several wild rounds—at Tommy.

Fuck! Tommy shouted. Joe! With his eyes watering from the gash in the center of his face, he touched his wound and looked at the blood on his fingers. Still on his knees, he muttered Fuck! again and reached into the milky mess. He withdrew his hand to reveal a bleeding palm. Goddammit!

On his way around the corner, Lalo yelled, Now, Tommy, or I’ll kill you my fuckin’ self!

Tommy stuck his hand back into the soup and got lucky, pulling up his Glock 17, a gun Richie had recommended for its accuracy, dependability, and durability—even in water. Tommy stood, aimed at the puddle, and pulled the trigger. The gun fired, spitting back a crisp twister of milky water. A damn good gun.

He stepped out of the hole and ran after Raul, Rance, and Joe. All of them had reloaded, but only Joe was firing at anything that didn’t move. And now, at Richie.

As bullets pinged and sparked all around him on the side street, ahead of the maniacs, Richie raced around the next corner to his right where he remembered an alley. What he could not recall was whether the alley ran through to the next street or ended in a cul-de-sac. He took his chances.

Eight seconds later, Lalo and the boys ran into the alley tasting blood—and stopped. Looking right, then left, then right again, they saw only an empty midnight back alley in teeming rain. A beat later, Tommy joined them, still spitting muck while checking his nose and palm—finding plenty of blood and bitching, Goddammit! Fucking Richie. Look at this shit.

No one paid him any mind, too busy looking for Richie, who was nowhere in sight. Gone that fast.

Rance could not believe it. How the fuck does he do that?

This wasn’t the first time Richie had disappeared before their eyes.

Lalo threw his gun on the ground—a classy weapon for a classless guy who’d only bought it because someone had said Sigs were the best—and grabbed Raul’s RPB MAC-10 away from him. A gun without bullets, whatever the brand or cost, black market or retail, was worthless to Joe Lalo. So down it went for one of his guys to retrieve. Joe was busy.

He opened fire with the full-auto MAC on a bronze 1964 Corvair coupe to his left—shot it to pieces, emptying the clip of thirty .45 slugs in under two seconds. So much for restoring a classic.

As Joe reached for a fresh clip, a noisy third-floor window flew open across the alley above the Corvair, and an incredulous Dominican woman hung out.

Hey! she shouted, clearly outraged. That’s my car, you! Young punks in the neighborhood were always causing trouble, but no one had ever shot her car—stole it, yeah; but shot it? Never! "What the hell you think yer doin’, ya little pinga!"

Joe, the adult thug, answered her the same way he usually did when he was holding a gun. He held out his hand, Raul gave him a fresh clip, Joe slammed it in, aimed up, and let go a new blast.

The startled woman barely had time to duck as the spray of automatic rounds took out all the windows in her tenement flat. When the rumble of gunfire was gone, the only sound left was the woman screaming bloody murder. She went on for ten minutes.

"Shut up, puta! Lalo shouted. Then, to his men in a tone of disgust, Can’t you limp dicks run any faster?"

Rance said, We could if it was pussy. We’d’a had a hard-on for that shit. Rance, always with the macho crap—the most macho crap in the room. Or empty alley.

Raul said, Fuck. Richie’s the biggest pussy around. He had a good laugh and Rance and Tommy threw in with him.

Lalo didn’t join in their laughter. "That fuck’s dead. You hear me? Dead. Fuckin’ pissant motherfuck—" The last syllable was lost to the emptying of his next clip into the alley. Bullets ricocheted everywhere and his Boyz ducked as a few came back too close—no hope of refuge with nothing to hide behind.

Tommy yelped, "Jesus, Joe, look out! You’ll kill us!"

Gimme one good reason why the fuck I shouldn’t. Joe jammed the last clip into the MAC and, with short bursts, shot the Corvair some more, then the apartment building, and a dumpster on the other side of the street. His crew ducked and cringed, looking around as if they could see a bouncing bullet coming for them and get out of the way.

Knowing they couldn’t.

Completing his 360-degree expression session, Lalo ejected the spent clip onto the pavement and gave the MAC back to Raul, who had reloaded his boss’s Sig. Joe took it and started back down the alley. Rance looked at the empty clip on the ground and said, Joey, the cops, man. Don’t leave that shit layin’ around with your prints on ‘em.

Fuck the fuckin’ cops, Lalo said, and enunciated his point with four of his twelve .40 caliber rounds.

Joe Lalo had no reason to fear the police. He’d paid off more than one and was on a first-name basis with two of the infamous, cocaine-stealing, murderous Miami River Cops. Plus, he was fond of saying that his time was not yet up. He acted as if he was the king of Miami crime, even though he ranked several steps down the lawless ladder.

He fired again—this time aiming four more shots over the heads of his men.

Raul yelled, Nobody else’ll work for you, you keep that shit up, Joe!

Joe answered by firing his last four rounds into the alley—sparks flying, bullets ricocheting, the guys ducking—and walked straight down the middle, looking impervious. Like every other criminal in Miami, he’d seen Scarface a thousand times.

That Pacino fuck has a shitty accent, he’d said thousands of times in his genuine dialect. But I love the way he rolls. One former employee had pointed out that Pacino dies ingloriously in the end. Former being the operative word. Joe had had him removed.

The clip empty, Joe dropped it on the ground, felt his pockets and said: I’m out. Someone give me a freshie.

Rance muttered, Freshie...

Raul said unconvincingly, We’re about out too, Joe.

Lalo looked about to complain, or bitch-slap his man, when they heard sirens. He said, Fuck it, let’s go. We’ll meet back at his place. He started for the street. "Someone get the fuckin’ car, like yesterday."

Now he was in hurry.

His guys looked at each other, let go sighs of relief at having survived another of Joe’s unhinged outbursts, and tromped back through the white puddles of Miami’s downtown.

Hey, Tommy, Rance said, with that blood all over your face you’re so fuckin’ white you make Raul look like a fuckin’ Haitian.

Fuck you, Raul said, and took off running for the getaway Lincoln. Raul wasn’t the type to leave such a racist slight hanging like that, untouched.

Tommy shook his head, bent down to pick up Joe’s last Sig clip, touched his wounded face, and looked down at the now ruined great ensemble he’d bought from Lincoln Road—for Lincoln Road. "The mujeres there! he had said, air-kissing some anonymous pretty girl he would someday fuck like there’s was no mañana."

And he wasn’t even Cuban; he was from Minnesota.

Shit, he said, the Minnesotan in him long gone. Fuckin’ hot tub hole motherfucker. I woulda had ‘im if it wasn’t for that shit. He shot the hole one last time with his Glock.

Joe’s recrimination came fast. Hey. Cut it out, dumbfuck. You’ll wake someone up.

He was serious.

Chapter 2 – Theresa

Can this fucking rain get any harder?

After a three-mile run that took twenty minutes, Richie slithered through the densely vegetated alley in Coconut Grove into an old wooden carport. A clean 1978 220 SLC sat parked amidst piles of crap—mildewed cardboard boxes of vinyl floor tiles, broken mini-blinds, a rusting refrigerator, one water ski, two bikes with four flats and enough rust to open an exhibit on oxidation, and more sagging, dusty boxes of old magazines in the rafters, glued together with years of humidity.

Soaked and panting, Richie dug in his pockets for his keys. Came up empty. He patted his entire body three times just to make sure. Fuck. I left ‘em in the Beemer, he chastised himself. What a dick.

He tried the Mercedes door, his rain-slick fingers slipping off the handle with a painful slap, hinting at the worst-case scenario. Oh, come on. Theresa, you never lock your car. This is why you can’t rely on heroin addicts.

Richie threw a desperate look around the garage. He wouldn’t get anywhere on the grimy dirt-bike, especially since it had no wheels. Maybe he could build a refugee raft from the lumber. God knows there’s enough water in the alley to float it.

Richie looked out at the unrelenting rain—the worst cold-front downpour he’d ever seen. And cold. So damn cold. Tropical paradise, my ass.

Keeping low, behind the cover of tall multi-colored crotons next to the raised house, Richie skulked up to the flaking, double-hung two-gang windows and peered inside through rain-streaked glass.

Theresa’s house was one of the last of the Old Grove structures, more and more of which were going the way of the dodo to be replaced by lot-line-hugging McMansions. The Grove’s charm and history were dying as yuppies rode the tech-bubble like Slim Pickens on a dropped bomb, claiming the one-time art and hippie community as their own new Miami Mecca. Coveys of flittering, toady real estate assholes and developers had approached Theresa, but she refused to sell. Richie gave her credit for hanging tough and not caving in to her itch for more and more dope, not selling out to shoot up.

Anna Theresa Cruzan’s parents had escaped Cuba on a raft the size of a small sofa. Theresa’s uncle, her father’s brother, slipped off during a storm and drowned. Her mother and father managed, through some small miracle, to avoid a Coast Guard cutter and landed on a jagged coral shoreline in upper Key Largo. They received political refugee status the moment their wet feet hit dry land, and they moved in with relatives in Hialeah.

Theresa was born three years later, a future in the extended-family business "Calle de Ocho Pasta de Guaba y Otros Condimentos" looming solidly ahead. With that forever butter smell in her beautiful long hair and three years at Miami-Dade Community College that produced no pre-business degree, she chose heroin. She once sold her hair for dope money but liked the look and kept it short.

Richie now took precious moments to gaze at Theresa through her window in the rain. He saw what many others did not: a strong but frightened woman. She was beautiful when she took the time to dress up and put on some makeup. Thin but busty, she had spectacular bones, and, as she said, No black bean bubble butt, despite the growing popularity of big booties. Theresa stayed lean—and she could be mean. Especially if she was coming off the stuff, which she did regularly. She tried.

Richie had thought she might make it the last time. Then her sister had died in a gasoline truck/train wreck up in Broward County. Half a dozen cars had been blocked in, waiting for the train, when the fuel truck driver got caught on the tracks. No one let him go ahead and no one let him back up, apparently thinking it better to sacrifice ten lives than to give up a car’s length at a red light.

Miami didn’t used to be that way, Richie had thought at the time. His father had told him often what a great place Miami was in the forties and fifties. Richie had seen it much the same way in the sixties of his youth, even halfway through the seventies when he’d started working the streets.

When the train engine split the tanker in two, thousands of gallons of ignited gasoline erupted onto the trapped cars. Theresa’s sister’s body literally melted into the seat, which melted into the floor, which melted into the road. Theresa had started shooting up again that night and hadn’t stopped since.

Richie had never given up on Theresa, even though heroin brought out the worst in her. She was the only one who’d ever accepted Richie for what he was—even though she did not fully know him. No one did; he made sure of that. But no matter how dark it got inside Richie Makepeace, it was always darker in Theresa Cruzan. That had remained a constant.

Just as Richie felt confident enough to go into the house, he heard the muted, tinny sound of a van door sliding back in the alley and the subsequent thwump as it shut. Sloshing, running footsteps followed immediately.

They can’t be here already. Richie reached up to tap the window as a warning, but caught himself just in time as Joe Lalo, Rance, Raul and Tommy hurried in through the back door. They wore fresh clothes, having had time and transportation on their side. Joe carried a fresh MAC-11 in his hand.

Richie muttered under his breath, She doesn’t know anything, Joe. Leave her alone. Just turn around and leave. He searched the ground and found a jagged coral rock the size of two softballs, then stood up ready to do... something.

Peering in through the rain streaks, he repeated, "She doesn’t know anything, you... sick... sadistic..."

Lalo set down the black MAC, revealing a nickel-plated Colt Series 80 .45 in his waistband—his favored weapon of execution—and...

Kissed Theresa.

On the mouth.

Even Richie’s aura froze.

As Tommy and Rance play-fought like little brothers over a grey fedora Richie had left on the sofa—as if nothing had gone down half an hour earlier, as if no one had gotten killed—Theresa asked Lalo how it went. The pouring rain and closed windows muffled her voice, but even if her words were smudgy, the intent was not.

Lalo said, "Fine. Until your boyfriend grabbed my dope and my money and ran."

Theresa’s eyes flew wide. "He took the money?"

Yeah, he took the fuckin’ money! Joe sat on the couch and let his head fall back, closing his eyes and exhaling heavily as if coming home from work at the end of a long day on the assembly line—honest work he’d never known in his life. Get me a beer, he told her.

Theresa went into the small kitchen at the back of the house and brought back a beer. She paced the room as Joe took a deep swallow of the cold El Presidente and let his head ease back down, eyes closed.

Theresa gave him a moment, then said, What do you mean he took the money?

Joe looked up at her. We’ll get it back. Then he looked at Rance. Bitches, right?

Rance grinned agreement.

Joe said, All she thinks about is the money. As if he didn’t.

Pacing and biting at her nails ravenously—clearly Jonesing—Theresa said, What happened, Joe? I don’t understand. Why would Richie—

I don’t fuckin’ know! Joe Lalo shouted, standing violently, pushing her back with his presence. "But he’s dead. The second we find him, or Nick Galleone finds him, or the fuckin’ cops find him, he’s dead."

"What do mean the cops? Galleone? Joe, what happened?"

"Theresa, puta, you don’t know and you don’t wanna know. You did your part, you were a nice little go-between, but the men had to step in and do the real work, right? That’s what we do—while you pretty little things stay at home and cook and iron and shoot smack and look at your fuckin’ little magazines, we get bloody."

Theresa stopped pacing. What do mean ‘bloody’? What’d you do? It was supposed to be—

"I know what it was fucking supposed to be, Terri! But it wasn’t! Okay? Rico’s boy was a rat. An informant, okay? Hijo de puta."

How do you know that? Theresa said.

Inside shit, Joe said, wrinkling his lip. "Narcotics captain called me and gave me a heads-up. He had some... interesting information, and we made a deal. Now Rico’s boy is dead, and Rico’s daddy is looking for Richie. Everybody’s looking for Richie. Us, Nick Galleone, his kids, his guys, Rico, the cops. Richie’s a wanted motherfucker. And he will not get away with this shit. Come pinga. Me cago en el coño de su madre!"

Shit, Theresa said. I don’t want Richie hurt, Joe.

Yeah, well, Joe said. I can’t help that. He fuckin’ took my money and my fucking dope! He’s fuckin’ dead!

Theresa turned away. You said that.

Joe said, Then deal with it.

I’m trying, Joe. I’m trying. It just doesn’t... doesn’t make sense. Why would Richie—

"Stop saying that fucking shit! I don’t know! He’s a fuckin’ thief. I trusted him! Singao!"

Theresa chewed and paced. "Just don’t hurt him, okay? He’s been loyal, helped you out. Helped me out. I’m sure there’s a good explanation. He’ll show up. He’ll have your shit, our money, and a good excuse. You’ll see."

Joe stared a too-long moment then said, Are you done? Theresa said nothing, so he said, "Good. Because there is no good fuckin’ reason. There is no good fuckin’ excuse. There is no saving Richie’s fuckin’ ass. He. Is. Dead. Comemierda!"

Now Joe started to pace. I shoulda cut his nuts off and fed ‘em to my fuckin’ snake when I had the chance. Lalo had a seven-foot python named Killer Joe that he was planning to release in the Everglades when it reached ten feet, just to fuck with the white guys. He nodded now as if to confirm to himself. I’ll get my chance. Then he turned toward the windows. "Get some fuckin’ air in here. Christ!"

Raul reached for the double-hungs.

Outside, Richie moved too quickly, his foot taking flight on the slippery green fungus under the hedge. The sharp, rough corner of the foundation piling rushed up faster than he could have imagined and caught him square on the forehead. The blow hurt like hell and drew blood immediately, just at the hairline; but he managed to keep his response to a dull groan as, above him, Raul struggled with the long-ago painted-shut windows.

It’s stuck, Joe, Raul said.

Joe said, Get the fuck outa my way. Can’t even open a fuckin’ window. He laid into it with all his strength, but eighty years of paint on paint, rust, and corrosion in the Miami summers defeated him. Fuck! He finally gave up, glaring at the window getting in his way. For a moment, it looked as if he might break out the glass with the closest object—that being Raul. Raul took a step back.

Theresa chewed on her other hand and said, Just give him a chance, Joe. He’ll call. I know he will. Just... just give him a chance to explain and bring the money.

The fuckin’ money, Joe said. He looked at Rance. "Fuckin’ bitches, man. Conyo! He snatched a cable guide off the table and threw it against the wall, then calmly announced, I gotta piss," and left the room.

Outside, Richie sat still in the mud and rain, gathering his senses. He reached up and felt the rising bump on his forehead, watched the steady rainfall wash away the blood on his fingers, and considered how incredibly wrong the night had gone. Too many kinds of fucked up. He had nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, no friends left. He needed a plan—quickly—but none came to mind. He was blank.

The solid thump of a door slamming that could only be from a German-made car interrupted Richie’s gloomy reverie. Crawling beside the elevated Old Florida house, Richie peered into the front yard where he spotted his doppelgänger, Tommy, getting out of a black BMW 5-series. Richie groaned. Not my car. Shit. Another option gone.

Tommy had a Band-Aid over his nose wound and his hand wrapped in gauze from the pothole, but he looked Mob sharp in a fresh outfit. Richie thought it was hard to tell the car dealers from the gangsters in South Florida.

He was about to crawl back to listen to the others some more when the other car door opened and another young hotshot got out—Theresa’s brother, Billy. What was he doing here? Billy high-fived Tommy and the two ran inside, laughing like teenagers.

Born in the States five years after Theresa, Guillermo Arturo Ricardo Cruzan was more American than Cuban. He went by William, then Billy, and preferred Taco Bell to anything on Eighth Street. Simply put, he was an embarrassment to his parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins—but Theresa loved and protected him anyway.

Under the crotons, Richie was rapidly descending into an abyss of confused despair. What the hell was going on? Joe Lalo kissing Theresa; Theresa knowing about the deal—having set it up and wanting her cut; her brother showing up, apparently in on the fuck-job. Could this get any worse?

Richie slipped back to the window, not sure that he wanted an answer to any of those questions. Maybe he should just take the money and go to South America. Fuck everything and everyone. But Richie Makepeace wasn’t the type to run. Too bad, he thought. Running away with no plan would be a lot easier than staying without one.

Billy and Tommy entered the small living room where Rance and Raul greeted them with friendly hellos, complete with bro-hugs and back-pats. Theresa glanced at Billy only for a moment as she continued to bite her nails and pace. Lalo returned from the bathroom and hugged Billy, kissing him on both cheeks like wannabe royalty in Monaco. On a yacht.

Richie’s brain wanted to shut down. He turned his back to the house and slid down the wall until he was again sitting in the mud, this time by choice, rain pouring off the edge of the roof onto his legs in torrents. He wanted to cry but knew it would do no good.

A sharp thump came from inside. Richie bolted up and peered inside just as Billy stood up from the floor, looking offended as Lalo ranted at him.

"Whattaya mean you couldn’t find him? If you couldn’t find him, what the fuck are you doin’ here?!"

Billy said, I don’t have to take this shit from you, Joe. I told you where he told me he’d be. He wasn’t there. So sue me!

I’ll sue you, ya little fuck. Joe slapped at him, but Billy dodged. "He wasn’t there ‘cause he was runnin’ from us, downtown!"

Well, you shouldn’t’a let him got away! Billy shouted back.

Theresa looked up over her nail biting, clearly not liking the way this was going. Billy, she said softly and shook her head no.

Billy didn’t respond.

Lalo moved in on him. You tellin’ me what I shouldn’t’a done? Huh? You tellin’ me that, ya little fuckin’ pissant nothin’? He smacked Billy up-side his head.

Theresa stepped in. Cut it out, Joe. Leave him alone.

Joe looked at her, scowling at her attempt to intervene.

She directed her advice the other way. Billy, get outa here. Go to Mom’s.

I don’t wanna. Billy sounded irritated with his big sister.

"Yes, William, now," she said.

Joe slapped Billy again.

"Billy, go!" Theresa said, and moved as if to shove Billy toward the door.

Shut up! Joe barked and smacked her as well, sending her reeling back the other way.

Billy shoved Joe. Hey! Leave her alone!

Lalo snapped and started cuffing Billy repeatedly, driving him back with blow after blow. The kid was powerless to stop a single hit, holding his hands up in front of his face, whining for Joe to stop as Joe batted him on one side then the other. Eventually Billy tripped over a low, modern Danish armchair and onto the floor—injuring his ego more than his ass.

Joe, goddammit! he said. I did what you said! I did what I said I’d do! But he wasn’t there! What the fuck am I supposed to do?!

You’re supposed to not be here until you found him, you dumb little worthless fuck! Joe turned away, stewing in his own bile, as Billy clambered to his feet, rubbing his neck and back, since he couldn’t reach his ego.

Rance and Raul looked jittery. They all knew that look and what usually happened when their boss got too wound up. He’d even stopped swearing in Spanish. Never a good sign.

Rance checked his gun, no doubt to make sure the safety was off.

Joe continued yelling in Billy’s face, spitting on every other word. He’s got my fuckin’ money and my fuckin’ dope! You get it now, you fuckin’ piece’a stupid dogshit?

Defiant, but not terribly smart, Billy yelled back, "Well, that’s your problem, Joe! You’re so fuckin’ smart!"

Theresa shouted, "Billy, shut up! Just get the fuck outa here. Now. Go!"

"You shut up! Lalo shouted at Theresa, and whacked her so hard he knocked her down. Stupid whore bitch. This ain’t your fuckin’ business no more!"

Richie looked around for the coral rock again, a stick, some help, some salvation, any goddamned thing. So helpless outside, away from the action, unarmed. But what could he do if he were inside? Everyone packing heat, Richie with his rock.

Billy wasn’t one to demonstrate open love for his sister, but Richie could see he wasn’t about to accept anyone striking her down. Even Joe Lalo. Leave her alone! Billy shouted, and went to Theresa, picking her up by her arm. We’re done with this shit. Come on, Terri, we’re gettin’ outa here. Fuck him.

Theresa let Billy help her up, then pulled away. I’m okay. You go.

"No, Terri. We’re

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