HOW RAMON DEALT WITH THE HELP - ROBERT CRISMAN
Businessmen know that personnel problems will kill you unless you deal with them right here and now.
Ramon and Dennis got up to Aurora in northend Seattle at ten after ten in the morning. Up a few blocks, just past 85th, they came to the Tiki Motel. They pulled right on a side street, parked a block up, and walked back.
The Tiki, a cinderblock eyesore—on Aurora, who’d notice?—a two-story pit stop for junkies, dealers, and hos. It was shaped like a U with the parking lot fronting the street. The manager’s pad was first on the left. Mid-morning, his shades were all drawn, which was good; no birddogging asshole checking them out. The bad thing, of course, was that shitholes like this drew the heat all the time.
“This ought to be something,” Ramon said. “Reyes says the guy’s crying, all fucking night, boo hoo hoo hoo. He didn’t know, and all that good shit. Storytime, right? This ought to be fun.”
Ramon, mid-30s, didn’t look like a fun kind of guy. At 5’9”, 150 or so, he carried himself like a much bigger man, a man people moved for. He was mocha-skinned, chorus-boy pretty, with arctic ice eyes. He dressed like a banker-cum-pimp with his black cashmere topcoat, herringbone sport coat and gray flannel slacks, and bad Bally lizards, shined to fucking perfection.
Ramon in the wind? The very air bled...
Dennis? He really was big, 6’5”, 250, with muscles he ripped off of some goddamned bear. His face at age 35 mugged the world like Walter Matthau’s beefed up like Bluto’s. He had cold hazel wolf’s eyes.
He dressed in a black leather car coat and jeans and looked like he’d just been shipped in off the cellblock.
They followed the walkway back to Room 10. Dennis knocked on the door. It opened a crack, and some guy peeked out. He opened the door, and they went in past him.
Ramon said, “Reyes,” and nodded. Reyes, around 21, was thin as a rail. He closed the door after Dennis.
The place was a roach pit, of course. Eons of hos, tricks, and dopers. The shades were all drawn. It was gloomy as hell. The gloom did nothing to soften the skank.
The only light came from a lamp by the side of the bed. A guy was hunched up on the edge of the bed. Luis, sick as a dog. Pointing a gun at Ramon and Dennis. He had the shakes bad.
Poor Luis: he was 30 going on 50 in a wifebeater t-shirt, stained khaki slacks, with a pallor suggesting that leeches had bled him. His eyes were two Xes. His barbers must have been goats.
Ramon looked at Reyes, who shrugged.
Ramon put his hand out to Reyes, palm up. Reyes went into his pocket, came up with a key, and handed it over. Ramon nodded then, and Reyes took off, closing the door softly behind him.
Ramon turned to Luis. “Eh, Luis? So, what is this? What are you doing?” He had this half-puzzled smile on his face. His tone was chiding, but friendly.
One thing to note: talking to Luis, Ramon’s diction changed. With Dennis, he brought it out the side of his neck. With Luis, he sounded more like Don Carlos addressing the peasants.
Luis just sat there hunched like a dog. You could see the sweat sliding off him. If he shook any more, his teeth would fall out.
Ramon had all the time in the world. “I heard you were here, so I came to find out what the problem is. And then, is this how you greet me, with a gun, like an enemy?”
Still nothing from Luis.
Ramon was the soul of patience and calm. “Luis, Luis. We need to talk, you and I. But you have got to put that gun down. You’re shaking. What are you going to do, shoot me by accident? Then, where are we?”
Shaky as he was, Luis kept that gun trained.
“What is troubling you?” Ramon said. “What happened?”
Luis was working up the nerve to speak. He started slow, then built to a rush. “Ramon...the guy...the one I told you about, the biker... He, him ’n two other guys, they ripped us off. They came in an’ threw down on us, they had shotguns—wasn’t nothin’ we could do, I swear, Ramon, they were—”
“Okay, Luis, okay. Easy. It’s alright. I told you, the biker, you have to be careful. Bikers are bad news. Tell me what happened. How did they do it?”
“Man, Ramon, I swear, we were bein’ careful. I had the gun on him when he came through the door. I thought it was just him, like he said it would be. I told him to be by himself, like you said.”
Luis took the hem of his t-shirt and wiped the sweat off his forehead. The gun stayed trained. “He came in an’ I stopped him, you know, an’ I patted him down. An’, when I’m doin’ that, the door, I told Phylis to close it—an’ these guys come bustin’ in, bam, man, real fast. Wasn’t nothin’ we could do. They must’ve come up around back, ’cause I didn’t hear nothin’. Only thing I could figure... It was rainin’, an’, you know...”
Luis shrugged, shook his head. “They, I swear, Ramon, this is true. I swear to God. There wasn’t nothin’ we could do. I—”
Luis broke off and shrugged again. He looked like he was going to crumple and cry. He didn’t forget he was holding the gun, though.
Ramon said, “Luis, don’t cry. Okay? These things can happen. You expect these things, the possibility. You do what you can to prevent it, but it’s a dangerous business. But, then, it happens, and you don’t call me. Why?”
It was as if he was talking to a kid that he’d caught stealing cookies.
“I was afraid, man. The dope was gone. You’d blame me...”
Ramon clucked his tongue, as if perhaps he was getting a little impatient. He took a step forward. “Luis. You watch too many movies. You think I’m, what, Felix Gallardes? Cut you up with a machete? Come on, Luis. Get real. No.
“I’m in business. If something happens, I want to find out what it is, so I can fix it, not cause more damage, just because things didn’t go smoothly, the way I want. I go tearing things up, and I don’t even know what happened here, or why? I don’t even try to talk to you? What good is that going to do?”
He lit up a smoke. “It doesn’t solve any problems, Luis. I don’t even know what the problem is? This thing, going off half-cocked, that’s for cowboys. Dennis and I were just talking about someone we knew who was like that, going around and just tearing things up. He went to the penitentiary, Luis. He died up there, too.
“It’s stupid is what I’m saying, and I’m not in business to do that. I’m not going to waste good people, either. I’m going to solve the problem that we actually have.
“The point here is, I believe you. I believe those bikers ripped you off. It was one of those things that happen. It could have been anybody.”
Luis started to cry.
“Luis,” Ramon said, “look at me. What we have to do now is, fix the problem. We have to find that biker and his friends. Get what they took, and hurt them for what they did to you. Luis? Do you hear me? That is what we have to do.”
Luis’s tears were in full flow now. His gun hand sagged to the floor.
Ramon kicked him dead in the face.
Luis’s head snapped back, and then forward. Ramon kicked him again, this time in the eye. Luis launched off the bed and fell on the floor with a lamp-rattling thud.
He was maybe half-conscious, lying on his back, mouth and right eye gouting blood. He moaned. Ramon kicked him twice in the head. Then he stomped on his face.
He spit on Luis and kicked him again, in the temple.
He brought a gun out from his jacket. He looked at Dennis, then pointed at a pillow on the bed. “Get that, man.”
He unzipped and fished out his dick, and let fly on Luis.
He finished, shook it, tucked it back in and zipped up. Dennis handed him the pillow. He got on one knee, pressed the pillow to Luis’s face, then pressed the gun to the pillow. He squeezed off three shots. Luis jerked like a fish on a dry land. Blood and brains shot past the pillow like paint that’s been blown out a cannon.
Ramon wiped the gun and laid it on Luis’s chest. He looked at Luis a moment. Then he stood, and gave the room a once-over. “Look around,” he said. “Under the bed and stuff. I’ll check the can.”
“Guy shit himself, man,” Dennis said. “Fuckin’ stinks.”
“Yeah, well,” Ramon said, and went into the can. Dennis peeked under the bed. He quick-frisked the dresser and closet. Nothing and nothing, except for some dust, some old matchbook covers, and jellybeans 40 years old in the top dresser drawer.
Ramon came out of the can. Dennis said, “Nothin’.” Ramon said, “No shit.” He looked around once, and then tossed the key on the bed. “Let’s hit the road.”
Back down Aurora toward town. Ramon said, “What time you got to get this piece of shit back to him?”
“This afternoon, sometime.”
“Good. We’ve got time. I need to get downtown. Drop me there, alright?”
Ramon lit a smoke.
“Man,” Dennis said, “I didn’t believe it, I first heard the story, but, that motherfucker was sick as a dog.”
“Yeah,” Ramon said. “No money, no dope. It happened, alright. Fucking dopefiends. I first heard he took off, I thought the same thing as you. But I talked to Phylis, and she isn’t going to lie to me. Too scared to lie. And, that’s what she said, boy. Those motherfuckers came busting on in, just like he said.”
“She’s the one who told you where he was.”
“Oh yeah. Reyes had called her when he couldn’t get hold of me, and he knew I’d be down there. Luis knew, too. He wanted her to know, same reason, right? Fucker didn’t really have any place to go, you know what I’m saying? Where’s he going to go, where I’m not going to catch up? So, what can he do?
“Try to plead out, and hope something works.”
“Uh-huh,” Dennis said.
Ramon smiled, a small, sour smile. “He was probably asleep on that couch when they came busting in, man. And that’s what I mean, see. If he’d’ve been right, they couldn’t’ve gotten in there like that. He’d’ve had Jaime and a couple other guys in there with him. Bikers, for Chrissake! I tell him, tell the guy, be by himself, but… Guy says okay, you’re going to believe him? A biker? You’ve got to have backup, dealing with something like that. Those guys are bad news.”
Ramon shook his head. “And now, I’m out three grand because dipshit wanted to go get a groove on. That, and plus, whatever he’d stuck up his arm in the first place.”
“Yeah,” Dennis said. “I wasn’t surprised when he’d boogied, regardless. He didn’t call that day I was down there. I told him, call you, He seemed kinda spooky, you know?”
“For all I know, that was the fucking game plan,” Ramon said. “You know, hit his last lick, that’s three more grand in his kick, and arrivederci, you know? Dumb motherfucker. Only thing, he gets loaded, nods off, they take his ass off. So much for game plans.
“He should’ve just kept right on going. But his mind was too fucked up to think. And that’s what I mean about dopefiends, man. They get stupid. Stupid in the first fucking place, and now, something happens, all of a sudden, they’re black belts in stupid, you know?
“That’s why I don’t want any of my people using that shit. And then, they’re tripping, they get these ideas. Going to fly to the moon. Stay grooved for life, and all that good shit. And then, they go do it, whatever it is, and bam. Dumbfucks haven’t thought anything out, and, now it hits them, what they just did, and they’re swimming around, and it’s over their head, and, all of a sudden, they know it. And, now, they’re scared, which they should’ve been in the first fucking place. And they’re running around in six different directions, like rabbits—and here comes the truck.
“Dopefiends, man. Popcorn emotions and rabbit-ass minds.
“Fucking Luis. I knew something was up, way he was acting, but, Jesus Christ.”
They crossed the Aurora Bridge, Seattle’s suicide bridge for the washed-up, spit-out, and lonely. “You read about that dude?” Dennis said. “Skydived off this motherfucker a couple of nights ago? Hit that boat an’ went right through the deck?”
“Yeah,” Ramon said. “One way to go, you feel like you’ve got to, I guess.”
He looked at Dennis. “Your friend Eddie? He’s nervous, you know?”
Dennis looked at Ramon. “Yeah? So?”
“He’s nervous. Out at that place, making those comments and cracks and all that. It was pissing me off.”
“Yeah, I saw that. An’ I had a little heart-to-heart with him, too, about that.”
“Yeah. A couple of days ago. See, I know what you’re sayin’, man, an’, I been knowin’ Eddie a long fuckin’ time. He gets to thinkin’ about things sometimes, an’ all the shit that could happen an’ stuff, like, we go in there, the dude launches rockets or somethin’. An’ then, he gets a hair up his ass. He was that way when we were doin’ stuff before. He always comes through, though, really, he does. This time, what I did, I sat his ass down, got it out of him, what the fuck’s eatin’ his ass, ’cause it always takes awhile, you know, an’ then, I tell him, Look, you know, an’ kinda slap him upside his head. An’ then, he’s, Thanks, man, I needed that, an’ then, he’s okay. He was just, you know, anything can happen on one of these deals, an’ he’s, he just gotta go through this shit, man. It’s like a fuckin’ ritual or somethin’. Don’t worry, he’ll be okay.
“You, uh, okay with that, or what?”
“Hey, man,” Ramon said, “I know what you’re thinking, and you’re way ahead of yourself. You tell me he’s cool. I believe you. Some guys are like that. Long as you got him on track.”
A couple of beats, and then Ramon said, “Does it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
“The thought, you know. Like, what if, you know, like what happened to Luis back there. You never know. Like, if, for whatever reason, your buddy comes unglued again. What then?”
“It’s not gonna happen. An’, if it did...”
“I do what I gotta do. Whatever I gotta do, you know what I mean? Whatever I gotta do.”
After a moment, Ramon nodded, apparently satisfied.
Personnel problems? Take care of them before they take care of you.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.