December 10, 2009 by The Citron Review
by Laura Gardner
Three Mexicans come into my bar, one leading, nodding to the others to come in. They follow and mumble quietly to each other the way you do when discussing a drug deal. Something’s off. The jailhouse tattoos on their necks and faces and the veins bulging over look like anger etched into their foreheads. I get busy with my closing work. They’re sitting right above the beer cooler though, putting me face to face with them. I restock. Every so often they take turns throwing me a question or two, not to engage me in conversation, but more like they’re trying to size me up. The other customers finish their Coors and leave me alone with these guys. I imagine I see guns tucked in their jeans.
I call Kevin, who’s working at the bar next door; within minutes he walks loudly through the front door with Murph, whose six foot five frame scares people away. They’re there to show themselves, let it be known that I’m not to be fucked with. Murph doesn’t drink, but has a coke while Kevin and I do a shot together. Then Kevin downs a beer and goes back next door. Murph sticks around with me.
When the cholos finally leave, I reach across the bar to sweep up their cocktail napkins. My fingers snatch up one of the wadded napkins and can feel something; the rough-round shape hidden in my fist is familiar. This needs to be checked out where nobody else can see. I cough into the fist that hides the package, turn slightly to the side, and put my hand casually into the pocket of my jeans. Like I could relax. The jeans are form-fitting though, and a round bulge in my front pocket is obvious. I mumble about being cold and throw on my jacket. I act busy and wait a few minutes to not be obvious. I can’t stand it though, gotta know, and head to the bathroom. I need to know what kind of risk I’ll be up against if my guess is right.
It’s a ball of glass – meth – roughly the size of a golf ball. Worth at least a couple hundred bucks. My heart jolts into high speed. My hands are suddenly jittery. My mind races with images of them storming back in, furious, demanding to know what I did with their package, then grabbing me and searching me – it terrifies me. The big dogs don’t fuck around. They’re gonna be pissed – really pissed. I know what kind of things happen to people who don’t play by their rules.
That knowledge doesn’t stop me from keeping the loot. I take off my pixie boot, wrap the ball in Kleenex, and shove it down into my sock, trying to spread the contents a little, even it out so it won’t make the soft leather bulge out by the arch of my foot. I go back out, deliberately acting tired and in a hurry to close.
I knew it would happen, and it does. Only a couple of minutes later the one who’s in charge storms back in, his pack behind him, ready for attack. My heart’s in my throat. I have no idea how I manage to keep the near-paralytic fear off my face. First the boss just glares at me. Then in a low growl he says he had something there, in a napkin – what happened to it? What did I do with it? he adds.
I glance around, and try to sell my best “What did you say you were looking for? What did it look like?” face, my voice neutral. He isn’t buying.
I search through the trash for a couple minutes. His guys move bar stools around while he seethes behind a venomous glare. He starts to yell.
He knows I’ve got it, he blurts out, and I look up, losing the innocent face for a worried, “What the hell is your problem?” expression. Are you crazy they’ll kill you! I could act like I found it and give it back. I hear my heart pounding. It’s enough to keep me awake all week though.
The other guys stand at post beside him, their look telling me they’re going to make me pay. Murph is also standing – a foot taller and bigger all around than any of them. He moves in front of me. If I give it up now they’ll kill me for taking it and for lying.
“I don’t even know what it is!” I cry in one last effort.
“The fuck you don’t, you lyin’ little-”
Murph cuts him off yelling at them, you’ve got to go, we don’t want any problems, she doesn’t have whatever you’re looking for, but his voice is background, far away because I can’t take my eyes off the murderous glare their Boss makes no attempt to contain.
Once they’re out the door Murph bolts it, runs to bolt the back door, then comes back up to the bar.
“Did you – Murph – shit – please stay with me, I’m scared I can’t help it…” I’m not breathing.
He stops me, tells me he’s not about to go anywhere. It’s a good thing he doesn’t. Outside they bang on the door, screaming threats at me for another fifteen minutes. They’re not going to forget me.
Laura Gardner earned an MA in French at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a TESOL Certificate from the American University of Paris, and has taught both ESL and French. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Antioch University and working on her memoir, Just a Little Pick-Me-Up. Her translation of Babacar Fall’s “Senegalese Women in Politics” was published in African Words, African Voices, and her review of Whitney Walton’s Eve’s Proud Descendants appeared in the international review Orbis Litterarum. She lives with Mojo, a German Shepard she affectionately refers to as her Kraut Dog.