“I know that place,” Bubba said. “It’s, like, Castle Automotive or something.”
“Kestle. With a K,” Webster said.
Bubba slapped him upside the head again.
“You take anything out of the bag?” I said. “Anything?”
“Nah, man. Max told me not to, so I didn’t.”
“But you looked in there.”
“Yeah. No.” He rolled his eyes. “Yeah.”
“There was a picture of a little girl in there.”
“Yeah, I saw it.”
“You put it back?”
“Yeah, man, I promise.”
“If it ain’t there when I find the bag, we’ll come back, Webster. And we won’t be all sweet and shit.”
“You call this sweet?” Webster said.
Bubba slapped the side of his head a fourth time.
“Sweet as it’ll ever get,” I said.
Kestle Cars & Repair sat across from a Burger King in the part of my neighborhood the locals call Ho Chi Minh Trail, a seven-block section of Dorchester Avenue, where waves of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants settled. There were six cars on the lot, all in dubious condition, all with MAKE AN OFFER painted in yellow on their windshields. The garage bay doors were closed and the lights were off, but we could hear loud chatter from the back. There was a dark green door to the left of the bay doors. I stepped aside and looked at Bubba.
“You can’t pick a lock no more?”
“Sure, but I don’t carry a kit on me. Cops frown on that shit.”
He grimaced and pulled a small leather case from his pocket. He unrolled it and selected a pick. “Is there anything you can do anymore?”
“I cook a mean swordfish Provençal,” I said.
He gave that a mild shake of his head. “Last two times it was pretty dry.”
“I don’t make dry fish.”
He popped the lock. “Then a guy who looks like you does, and he served it last two times I was at your house.”
“Shit’s cold,” I said.
The back office smelled of trapped heat, burned motor oil, stale gusts of ganja and menthol cigarettes. We found four guys back there. Two I’d met before—the fat guy with the audible breathing and Tadeo, sporting a ridiculous bandage over his nose and forehead that made my own bandage look just a little less ridiculous. The fat guy stood to the far left side of the room. Tadeo stood directly in front of us, half his body behind a metal desk the color of eggshell. A third guy, in a mechanic’s overalls, was passing a joint when we walked in. He wasn’t yet drinking age and fear seized his face when Bubba entered behind me; unless the fear made him stupid ballsy (it happens), he’d be the least of our problems.
The fourth guy sat slightly to our right, behind the desk. He had dark hair. His skin was covered in a sheen of sweat, fresh droplets popping through the pores as we watched. He was about thirty-going-on-a-coronary, and you could smell the crank singeing his veins from Newfoundland. His left knee jackhammered under the desk, his right hand patted a steady bongo beat on the top. My laptop sat in front of him. He stared at us with bright eyes pinned to the rear wall of his skull. “This one of the guys?”
The fat guy pointed at me. “That’s the one fucked up Tadeo’s face.”
Tadeo said to me, “The re-up’s coming on that shit, homes. Believe it,” but there was a hollow catch in his voice that came from trying not to look at Bubba.
“I’m Max.” The tweeker behind my laptop gave me a broad smile. He sucked oxygen into his nostrils and gave me a wink. “I’m the IT guy up in this shit. Nice laptop.”
I nodded at the table. “My laptop.”
“Huh?” He look wildly confused. “This is my laptop.”
“Funny. Looks a lot like mine.”
“That’s called a model.” His eyes popped against their sockets. “If they all looked different, they’d be kind of hard to manufacture, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Tadeo said, “you fucking retarded and shit?”
I said, “I’m just a girl standing before a boy looking for his laptop.”
“I heard you’d got your head in the right place about this,” Max said. “We were never supposed to see you again. No harm, no foul. You want to bring us into your life, you don’t fucking understand how bad that will be.” He closed my laptop and placed it in the drawer to his right.
“Look,” I said, “I can’t afford a replacement.”
He rocked forward into the desk, his whole endoskeleton surging against his skin. “Call a fucking insurance company.”
“It’s not insured.”
“This fucking guy, bro,” he said to Bubba, then checked the position of his men. He looked back at me. “You’re out of this. Just let it go and you’ll stay out of it. Run back to your little life.”
“I’m going. I just want to take my laptop back with me. And the picture of my daughter that was in my bag. Bag’s yours.”
Tadeo moved all the way out from behind the desk. The fat guy stayed against the wall, breathing heavy. The kid mechanic was breathing heavy, too, and blinking like crazy.
“I know the bag’s mine.” Max got to his feet. “I know this office is mine, that ceiling, the O-ring in your ass, if I feel like it.”
“Uh, okay,” I said. “Hey, who hired you, by the way?”
“Man, you with the questions.” He flung his hands at me like he was auditioning for a Lil Weezy video and then scratched the back of his head furiously. “You don’t make demands. You go the fuck home.” He shooed me with his fingers. “Bro, I say one word and you’re fucking—”
Bubba’s shot spun him in place. Max let out a sharp shout and fell back into his chair. The chair slammed off the wall and dumped Max to the floor. He lay there for a bit with blood pouring from the vicinity of his waistline.
“What’s with all this ‘bro’ shit lately?” Bubba lowered his gun. It was his new favorite, a Steyr 9mm. Austrian. Hideous-looking.
“Ho, shit!” Tadeo said. “Holy fucking shit.”
Bubba pointed the Steyr at Tadeo and then the fat guy. Tadeo put his hands on his head. The fat guy did too. They both stood there shaking and awaiting further instruction.
Bubba didn’t even bother with the kid. He’d dropped to his knees and lowered his head to the floor and kept whispering, “Please, please.”