Authors: Elmore Leonard
Coming up and now passing it: red brick with white trim behind a vine-covered brick wall and a closed iron gate. Through the bars Chili could see the drive curving up to the front door. He wondered if Michael Weir was in there at this moment.
“Why don't we ring the bell, see if he's home?”
“You don't get to see him that way, believe me.”
“Go by again.”
Harry nosed the Mercedes into a drive, backed around and came past the house saying, “Worth around twenty million, easy.”
“It doesn't look that big.”
“Compared to what, the Beverly Hills Hotel? It's twelve thousand square feet plus a tennis court, pool, cabana guesthouse and orange trees on three acres.”
“Jesus Christ,” Chili said. He could see the upper windows as they crept past the wall, the top part of a satellite dish in the side yard.
“There's no way you could sit in your car and watch the house,” Harry said, “without attracting the police inside of two minutes. If you're thinking of waiting for him to come out.”
“What's he do for fun?”
“His girlfriend lives with him. When he's not here, he's in New York. Has a place on Central Park West.”
“I'd like to find out more about him,” Chili said, “where he goes, so maybe I can run into him.”
“Don't worry about it. I got an idea.”
“There was a piece on him, a cover story,” Harry said, “fairly recently in one of the magazines. About his career, his life. I remember there's a shot of him with his girlfriend. She was in entertainment, I think a singer with a rock-and-roll group when he met her. I wouldn't be surprised Karen has the magazine. I know she gets the trades, has stacks of 'em she keepsâI don't know why.”
“I have to go back there anyway,” Chili said, “pick up my car.”
For a minute or so he was quiet, catching glimpses of the big homes through the trees and manicured shrubs, all the places so clean and neat and not a soul around, nobody outside. Not like Meridian Avenue, South Miami Beach. Not anything like Bay Ridge, Jesus, you had to go all the way over past the Veterans Hospital to Dyker Beach Park to find trees of any size.
He said to Harry, “You know the one Michael Weir was in,
? When I saw it I recognized places on Bayview, Neptune Avenue, Cropsey. That's all close to my old neighborhood. I was in Miami then, but I heard some guys I know actually met him.”
“Sure, every picture Michael's in,” Harry said, “he researches the part, finds out exactly how he's supposed to play it. That's why he's so good.
he makes you believe he's a Mafia character.”
“Well, basically, yeah, he sounded okay,” Chili said. “What I couldn't believe, they would've let him in, the kind of simple asshole he was. Or let him get away after, a snitch? He would've ended up with his
dick in his mouth. I don't mean to say there aren't assholes in those different crews, they're full of assholes. I just mean the particular kind of asshole he was in the movie.”
“If he played a Mafia character,” Harry said, “then I guarantee you he talked to some of them.”
“Tommy would know,” Chili said. “Tommy Carlo. I could call him and double-check.”
“I'd like to know. Me and Tommy were both in Miami when they were making the movie, but he'd remember it. It was at the time we were running the club for Momo. Tommy was the one booked the different groups'd come in. Made him feel he was in the entertainment world.”
“Well, if you want,” Harry said, “call him from Karen's.”
“What if she's not home? We just walk in?”
“It didn't bother you before.”
“That was different. I'm not gonna bust in.”
“If the patio door was open last night,” Harry said, “it's still open. Karen's never been good at locking doors, closing windows when it rains, putting her top up .Â .Â .”
“When you were living together?”
“Anytime. She'd come in, forget to shut off the alarm system. Then the company that put it in calls and you have to give them an identifying code, three digits, that's all. But Karen could never remember the numbers. Pretty soon the cops pull up in the drive .Â .Â .”
“Harry, if Karen sets up Michael for you, what does she get?”
“She already got it.” Harry said, “Me. I made her a movie star. She wasn't too bad, for that kind of picture.
There aren't any lines that run more than ten words. Now she's reading for a part .Â .Â . Hasn't worked in seven years, she wants to get back in it. I don't know whyâMichael set her up for life.”
That's the name of the movie she's gonna be in.”
Harry gave him a quick glance. Looking at the road again he said, “I'll bet you a hundred bucks she doesn't get the part.”
Bo Catlett liked to change his clothes two or three times a day, get to wear different outfits. In less than two hours he was meeting friends at Mateo's in Westwood, so he had dressed for dinner before driving out to the airport.
Seated now in the Delta terminal, across the aisle from the gate where the mule from Miami would arrive by way of Atlanta, Catlett had on his dove-gray double-breasted Armani with the nice long roll lapel. He had on a light-blue shirt with a pearl-gray necktie and pearl cufflinks. He had on light-blue hose and dark-brown Cole-Haan loafers, spit-shined. The loafers matched the attachÃ© case next to him on the row of seats. Resting on the attachÃ© case was a Delta ticket envelope, boarding pass showingâfor anyone who might think he was sitting here with some other purpose in mind. Anyone who might think they recognized him from times before. Like that casual young dude wearing the plaid wool shirt over his white T-shirt, with the jeans and black Nikes.
Catlett liked to watch people going by, all the different shapes and sizes in all different kinds of
clothes, wondering, when they got up in the morning if they gave two seconds to what they were going to wear, or they just got dressed, took it off a chair or reached in the closet and put it on. He could pick out the ones who had given it some thought. They weren't necessarily the ones all dressed up, either.
The young dude in the jeans and the wool shirt hanging out, he'd given that outfit some thought. A friendly young dude, said hi to the ladies behind the airline counter and they said hi back like they knew him.
Catlett wondered if the Bear had noticed that.
The Bear, having shown himself once, like reporting in, was around someplace: the Bear in a green and red Hawaiian shirt today with his baby girl.
Ninety-nine percent of the people in L.A. did not know shit about how to dress or seem to care. Nobody wore a necktie. They'd wear a suit and leave the shirt open. Or the thing now, they'd button the shirt collar, wearing it with a suit but no tie, and look like they'd just come off the fucking reservation. Ronnie Wingate, not knowing shit either, said, “Why wear a tie if you don't have to?” Like not wearing it was getting away with something. He had told Ronnie one time, “I use to dress just like you when I was a child and didn't know better.” Living in migrant camps, moving from Florida to Texas to Colorado to Michigan, out here to California, the whole family doing stoop labor in hand-me-down clothes.
He said to Ronnie Wingate, “You know what changed my whole life?” Ronnie said what and he told him, “Finding out at age fourteen, not till then, I was part black.”
Asshole Ronnie saying, “Negro?”
“Black. And if you're part, man, you're all.”
Finding it out in a photograph the time he and his mother and three sisters went to visit his grandmother about to die; drove all the way to Benson, Arizona, from Bakersfield and his grandma got out her old pictures in an album to show them. The first ones, her own grandparents in separate brownish photos. An Indian woman in a blanket. (He had been told about having some Warm Springs Apache Indian blood, so this fat woman in the blanket came as no surprise.) It was the next photo that knocked him out. A black guy in the picture, no doubt about it. But not just any black guy. This one had a fucking sword, man, and sergeant stripes on his uniform. He was a U.S. Cavalryman, had served twenty-four years in the Army and fought in the Civil War when he was fifteen years old and was wounded at a place called Honey Springs in Missouri. Across the bottom of the photo it said:
Sgt. Bo Catlett of the 10th, Fort Huachuca, Arizona Territory, June 16, 1887.
And was signed by a man named
C. S. Fly.
He asked could he have the photo and his grandma gave it to him.
“I think it was the sword did it,” Catlett said to Ronnie that time. “I kept thinking about it a year until now
was fifteen. You understand the significance of what I'm saying? I changed my name from Antonio to Bo Catlett, left the camps for good and took off for Detroit to learn how to be black.”
Asshole Ronnie didn't get it. “Detroit?” Even sucking on his base pipe didn't get it or ever would, 'cause the man would always be from Santa Barbara and never know shit about Detroit, about Motown, about Marvin Gaye .Â .Â .
Catlett spotted the Bear in his Hawaiian shirt, the Bear coming along carrying his three-year-old baby, cute little girl licking an ice-cream cone, dripping it on the Bear's shirt. The Bear looked this way without making eye contact, turned his head toward the young dude in the wool shirt and back this way again, wiping his little girl's mouth with a paper napkin, the Bear playing he was big and dumb but a nice daddy.
A voice just then announced the Atlanta flight was on the ground and would be at the gate in a few minutes.
Catlett got his mind ready. He'd been told the mule coming with the product this trip was a Colombian dude he had met one time before by the name of Yayo. Like so many of those people a mean little Colombian dude, but no size on him to speak of, going maybe one-thirty. They saw that movie
and turned into a bunch of Al Pacinos doing Tony Montana. Only they didn't know how. They maintained a level of boring meanness that was like an act they put on. It made him think of the man sitting at Harry Zimm's desk, Chili Palmer, in his black jacket zipped up, not looking like any kind of movie producer or sounding like them either, full of shit. Chili Palmer maybe could be a mule, except he was bigger than any Colombian and looked at you different. Didn't put it on so heavy. Chili Palmer was quiet about it but came right at you, wanting to get it done. Catlett was thinking he could put the Bear in front of Mr. Chili Palmer, see if the man behaved the same way, gave the Bear that look .Â .Â .
The Bear and his baby girl were among the people by the gate now. Passengers were coming out of
the ramp from the plane. The way it was set up, Yayo would have his ticket envelope in his hand, the envelope with a baggage claim check stapled inside. He'd lay the envelope on the trash container right there, not stick it down in, and keep coming. The Bear would step over, pick up the envelope and take off with his little girl to the baggage claim area. There it was happening .Â .Â .
And now Yayo was looking straight ahead coming through the people waitingâCatlett seeing them from behind moving aside to give this ignorant bean picker who looked like he'd never been in an airport before the right of way. That's what he reminded Catlett of, a migrant picker dressed for Saturday night in a clean starched shirt and khakis too big for him. Ignorant man, didn't know shit. Look at him being cool looking this way, coming over now.
As Yayo reached him Catlett said, “Don't say nothing to me. Turn around and act like you're waiting for somebody suppose to meet you.”
you talking about?” Yayo hitting the word hard, the way Tony Montana did. “They nobody know me here, man. Give me the focking case.”
“Ain't in the case. Now turn around and be
” Catlett said. “You got eyes on you. Man over to your right in the blue wool shirt hanging out .Â .Â . The other way,
Catlett hunched over to rest his arms on his thighs, the seat of Yayo's khakis hanging slack before him, Yayo between him and the dude in the wool shirt now.
“That's a federal officer of some kind, most likely DEA. He moves his leg look for the bulge. You
savvy bulge? Something stuck to his ankle, underneath his pants. His backup piece .Â .Â .
Try it without looking right at him if you can.”
Come out here you should always take some pills first, keep your blood pressure cool.
“You know he's there, now forget about him. While you wondering where your relatives are, suppose to meet you, I'm getting up. Gonna leave you and walk over to the cocktail lounge. After I'm gone, you sit down in this same seat I'm in. You feel something under your ass it's the key to a locker where your money is. But before you go open the locker you look around good now, understand? You don't want any guys have bulges on their ankles watching you. Take your time, go have a snack first. You know what a snack is?”
Yayo turned his head to one side. “You suppose to give me the focking money yourself.”
Catlett got up, adjusted his dove-gray double-breasted jacket, smoothing the long roll lapel. He said, “Try to be cool, Yahoo,” turning to pick up the ticket envelope and attachÃ© case. “I was to hand you this fulla money we'd be speed-cuffed before we saw it happen. Do it how I told you and have a safe trip home. Or as you all say,
vaya con Dios,
Down in Baggage Claim, Catlett stood away from the Bear and his little girl waiting at one of the carousels, the Bear looking at the numbers on the claim check that told him which bag coming out of the chute would have ten keys of cocaine in it. Seventeen thousand a key this month, a hundred and seventy grand waiting in the locker, the money plus some product they were returning: a whole key stepped on so many times it was baby food. No problem
if Yayo was careful, looked around before he opened the locker. The trouble with this business, you had to rely on other people; you couldn't do it alone. Same thing in the movie business, from what Catlett had seen, studying how it worked. The difference was, in the movie business you didn't worry about somebody getting turned to save their ass and pointing at you in court. You could get fucked over in the movie business all kinds of ways, but you didn't get sent to a correctional facility when you lost out. The movie business, you could come right out and tell people what you did, make a name. Instead of hanging out on the edge, supplying highs for dumbass movie stars, you could get to where you hire the ones you want and tell 'em what to do; they don't like it, fire their ass. It didn't make sense to live here if you weren't in the movie business. High up in it.
The Bear came away from the carousel carrying his little girl and a Black Watch plaid suitcase. Catlett followed them outside, through the traffic in the covered roadway that was like an underpass to one of the islands where people were waiting for shuttles in daylight. The little girl said, “Hi, Bo,” to Catlett coming up to them.
Catlett, smiling, said, “Hey, Farrah. Hah you, little honey bunny? You come see the big airplanes?”
“I been on airplanes,” Farrah said. “My daddy takes me to Acapulco with him.”
“I know he does, honey bunny. Your daddy's good to you, huh?”
Little Farrah started to nod and the Bear nuzzled her clean little face with his beard saying, “This here's my baby sweetheart. Yes her is. Arn'cha, huh? Arn'cha my baby sweetheart?”
“Man, you gonna smother the child.” Catlett raised the little girl's chin with the tips of his fingers. She seemed tiny enough to get lost in that shaggy beard, one tiny hand hanging on to it now, her tiny body perched on the Bear's arm. The Bear was going to fat but had taught bodybuilding at one time, worked as a movie stuntman and had choreographed fight scenes. Catlett thought of the Bear as his handyman.
“You know that place they use to shoot
77 Sunset Strip
“Yeah, up by La Cienega.”
“Harry Zimm's office is right across the street, white building, you see venetian blinds upstairs. I need to get in there, pick up a movie script. If you could meet me there tonight, open the door .Â .Â .”
“You want, Bo, I'll go in and get it.”
“No, you do the B part and I do the E.”
“I know that,” Farrah said in her tiny voice. “A, B, E, C, D.”
Catlett was smiling again. “Hey, you a smart little honey bunny, ain'cha?”
“Yes her is,” the Bear said.