Smokey and the New Ride

The negotiation went pretty much as you would expect. Flattop started high, and I started low.

“30% seems fair to me, it’s our turf after all.”

“Thirty is crazy. Why don’t we say 10%?” I countered.

The deal was done at fifteen, of course. Flattop and I shook hands, all smiles. This deal would be good for both of us, after all. Manny and I finally had a place to sell that we could call our own, and that we would have help defending. The LSS boys would finally have some income from their territory that had been laying fallow so long.

“To new friends,” I said, lifting my beer.

“To new friends,” the three other men at the table responded, laughing as their words stumbled over each other.

Before it got too late, Hondo left our celebration to find the man we needed to register Manny’s new wheels. He brought him back a few minutes later—an older, Mexican man in his 50s. His hair was still a deep black, but starting to thin on top. I identified him.

“Miguel Pena”

The job, Registrar, was one I hadn’t seen before. When I saw what he did next, things started to make more sense. In a world that didn’t have computers, but had a magical system behind everything, a job like this was essential.

“Which vehicle, and who’s the driver?” Miguel asked.

“This guy here,” Hondo said, slapping Manny on the shoulder. “The car is in the garage.”

“You know better, boy. I need to see the vehicle,” Miguel said, impatient.

“Oh, yeah, sorry Abuelo. My bad,” Hondo said, sliding the door open.

“I’m not your abuelo.”

Miguel turned to Manny. “The fee is $300, cash only.”

Manny winced, and pulled out his much reduced roll. He peeled off $300, not leaving much behind, and handed it to Miguel. Miguel pocketed $100 and kept the remainder in his hands.

“I’ll need plates,” Miguel said to Hondo.

Hondo dashed into the garage and came out thirty seconds later carrying a pair. He handed them to Miguel. They looked rough, the blue letters chipped and the white background dirty. Miguel didn’t seem to mind.

With everything he needed, Miguel began to direct Manny toward the car gently. “It’s easier for me if you stand by the car, son.”

I really wondered at the difference in treatment between Hondo and Manny, but with a tiny bit of reflection it seemed obvious. Miguel obviously knew the LSS boys, and had for some time. He was a respectable man, walking in the light and Hondo had pulled him away from whatever he was doing on a Sunday evening to come and provide his services. Was there some element of intimidation there? I had no idea, but it seemed likely. If you were respectable, law-abiding citizen you didn’t want to piss off your neighbors the gang bangers. Even if they were as seemingly harmless as Hondo and Flattop were. Maybe it was a legacy of the gang from before Hondo’s dad went away. They did say, after all, that their turf had once been much larger. Maybe Gato had ruled the neighborhood with an iron fist.

Once Manny was standing in front of the Crown Vic Miguel stepped back a pace and looked intensely at the car and its new driver for a moment. The cash in his right hand burst into green flames and disappeared, and the text of the top license plate squirmed and moved, the numbers changing. The blue paint of the letters became brighter and the white of the plate shone as the plate seemed to age in reverse, becoming new again. When the letters were done moving and changing, Miguel handed the plates to Manny.

Not one of my friends found this at all noteworthy, so with a lot of effort I suppressed a major nerd-out. Full-on magic, and it was just another day at the DMV for these guys.

“There you go, son,” Miguel said. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll go.”

“That’s it, thanks Miguel,” Hondo said. Miguel didn’t acknowledge it, simply leaving quietly.

“Hondo’s dad and Miguel had some beef. It’s carried over to Hondo, it looks like. Miguel’s a good guy, but he’s got that old school honor culture going,” Flattop said to me in a low voice.

I nodded, having gathered there was something going on there.

“And here are the keys, Manny,” Hondo said, slapping a small ring of keys into Manny’s hands.

“What about my Regal?” Manny asked, looking at the brown beast parked nearby in the yard.

“I’ll call a buddy I know that runs a scrapyard and get him to send a truck by tomorrow,” Hondo said. “We’ll tarp it up, so no one knows it was here. You’ll probably get a hundred bucks or something for it, depends on the price of metal tomorrow.”

“Shit, Bro, you’re really going to scrap her?”

“Yeah, I told you she’s not worth anything. Sorry, Manny,” Hondo replied.

We’d had a fantastic, triumphant day despite the rocky start. We’d set out in the morning to solve our problem with the Hip, or at least make it less of one, and we’d succeeded. We had the Sunshrouds and now Manny had the new car. When the LSS boys got paid for the Merc, we’d have a big payday. We’d even found a good spot to sell, I hoped. I’d know tomorrow if I could move any weight on the street outside.

That was why it was such a bummer when I realized that as of that moment I had nowhere to go. I was, technically speaking, homeless. Hell, compared to the morning I wasn’t even really carrying that much cash anymore. I only had $865 left in my roll.

“Manny, maybe we should go. You said you knew someone that needed a house mate?” I asked.

“Oh shit, Bro. I spaced out. Yeah, let’s go and I’ll intro you to Smokey.”

“You aint got no place to live?” Hondo asked.

“My uncle tossed me out last night, so I was staying in a sketchy motel,” I said.

“If that shit with Smokey don’t work out come back and you can crash on the couch here in the shop,” Hondo offered.

“Thanks, man. I appreciate that.”

We said our farewells and I freed my bike from the back seat while Manny made sure he didn’t leave anything important in the Regal. He tossed me the backpack with my weed in it. I’d almost forgotten it locked in the trunk.

Manny was relieved when my bicycle fit easily into the enormous trunk of the Crown Vic and he didn’t have to damage his “new” car.

When everything was in place, the three of us climbed into the car, Buddy in the middle, and Manny turned the key. It started right up, the big V8 burbling happily. Manny turned to me, a wide smile covering his face. He revved the engine and the throaty bellow of eight cylinders echoed off the metal walls of the garage.

Hondo was standing nearby, looking pleased. “That’s a good car. Treat her right and she’ll return the favor.”

The gate was open and with a last wave Manny drove out of the yard and we were on our way.