Home > Beautifully Cruel(6)

Beautifully Cruel(6)
Author: J.T. Geissinger

From the kitchen, Diego calls out, “Good riddance. That guy’s bad news.”

We ignore him. Looking puzzled, Carla says, “Wait—he asked you to take down your hair?”

“Yeah.”

She eyeballs me. “And you didn’t?”

“Of course not. I don’t even know the man’s name.”

“Pfft. I don’t know his name, either, but I’d still take down my hair for him if he asked. I’d take off all my clothes and lie down spread eagle in the middle of the dining room floor if he asked.”

“Charming.”

She shrugs. “Big Daddy’s been slacking in the bedroom department, if you know what I mean. My lady garden hasn’t been fertilized in forever.”

Big Daddy is Carla’s nickname for her husband, Dave. I’m not sure if it’s a real daddy sex fetish thing, or if she just enjoys watching people squirm when she says it, but I am sure I’m not going to ask.

They’re an attractive couple, but I don’t need to be haunted by details of my friends’ sex lives. My imagination is vivid enough without visual aids. My best friend in high school once mentioned her mother was a screamer, and I could never look the woman in the eye again.

I start a fresh pot of coffee, actively ignoring Carla as she launches into a gripe fest about her sexual dry spell. Eventually, she gets bored with my inattention and wanders away to help the elderly couple who drifted in while she was busy cross-examining me about the wolf.

“Chica.”

I look up to find Diego standing on the other side of the counter. He’s leaning with his arms on the stainless steel shelf where he puts the plates when they’re ready to be served, looking at me with concern in his eyes.

“I don’t like that guy.”

“Carla’s husband?”

“No, knucklehead. That vato in black who just left.”

I’m about to tell him he doesn’t have to worry about it because we’ll never be seeing him again, but curiosity gets the best of me. “Why not?”

He shakes his head. “I know guys like him.”

I wait, but he doesn’t add more. “I see. Thanks for that detailed explanation. That helps a lot.”

Sighing, he pushes off the shelf. Then he folds his arms over his chest and gives me a sour look.

“Fine. You wanna know? I’ll tell you. I wasn’t always this good boy you see now. In the barrio where I grew up, they called me a matón. El pandillero.”

I say drily, “How fascinating. If I spoke Spanish, I’m sure I’d be very impressed.”

Diego’s gaze grows serious. “It means thug, Tru. Troublemaker.”

Thug. I think of the tattoos on the wolf’s knuckles, and that shiver of recognition passes through me again.

But that’s silly. Tattoos being something only for thugs is an outdated prejudice. These days, it’s more likely a guy with lots of tats is a chef at a trendy restaurant who makes a heavenly short rib poutine served with a side of truffle mac and cheese.

Also, I don’t see a single tattoo on Diego, who just claimed to be a former thug himself.

“You haven’t ever spoken a word to the man, Diego. It’s not fair to make a judgment on his character.”

“Fair’s got nothing to do with it. A shark can always smell another shark, no matter how far apart they’re swimming in the ocean.”

I smile at him. “So you’re a shark now.”

He grins. “Great white, baby. You in love with me yet?”

“Any minute.”

“Okay, you let me know.” He turns back to the grill, calling out over his shoulder. “By the way, could you take out the trash in the lounge bathroom? There’s a bunch of Carla’s girl stuff in there. I don’t wanna touch it.”

I know by “girl stuff” he means tampons. If Buddy would ever buy a trashcan with a lid on it for the employee restroom, Diego wouldn’t have to be traumatized by these kinds of things, but here we are.

“Will do.”

“Thanks.”

I head to the tiny break room in back, which we ironically call “the VIP lounge.” Four hideous plastic lawn chairs surround a folding card table. An ancient microwave sits atop a rickety TV stand. There’s a college-dorm-sized refrigerator in one corner, a cracked mirror on the wall, and a water cooler that constantly leaks standing next to the row of battered lockers.

The walls are painted the ugliest shade of yellow you can imagine. It’s like being inside the apartment of a three-pack-a-day smoker who hasn’t left the place in forty years.

I use the restroom, wash my hands, and take the plastic bag out of the trashcan. I tie the ends into a knot and replace it with a new bag, then head to the larger aluminum garbage bins stacked along the wall in the corridor leading to the alley behind Buddy’s where the big Dumpsters are kept.

When I get to the corridor, it’s a mess.

Reeking bags full of trash and food scraps are stacked all around the aluminum bins, which themselves are full to overflowing. Keeping this area clean is the job of the dishwasher, but he quit a few days ago and hasn’t yet been replaced.

“Great,” I mutter.

Diego has been taking care of the dish situation while Buddy tries to find a new dishwasher, but he obviously thinks trash duty is beneath him.

It’s not beneath me. Growing up, I was responsible for mucking out the horse stalls and pig pens on the homestead. I’m no stranger to smelly, gross chores.

I go back into the lounge, put on my heavy coat and galoshes, then head to the corridor again. Propping open the door to the alley, I grab two of the bags on the floor and go outside.

The heavy rain has tapered off to a lighter, but steady, drizzle. The Dumpster is only a few feet away from the door, so I only have to walk several short steps to get to it. Unfortunately, the top is closed. It’s a heavy metal hinged flap that has to be lifted and held open long enough to shove a trash bag through.

I drop the bags on the ground next to the Dumpster and throw the lid up and back, toward the building. My push is hard enough that the lid flies all the way up. It comes to rest against the wall with a clatter.

I toss the two bags in, then trudge back inside to get two more. Then I do it again, determined to at least make a dent in the mess before I get too cold and wet to continue.

On my fourth trip, someone grabs me from behind.

I’m yanked so violently away from the Dumpster that I lose my balance. I stagger back and crash into a solid form—a chest. When I scream, an arm clamps around my throat. The tip of something ice cold and sharp jabs into the soft hollow beneath my jaw.

“Scream again and I’ll cut out your fuckin’ tongue.”

The voice is low, male, and deadly serious.

I stiffen in terror. Instinctively, I grab the arm clamped around my throat. It’s covered by a jacket made of a thin layer of nylon, through which I feel sinews and muscle, hard as stone.

My pulse crashes so loud in my ears it drowns out the patter of rain and the distant sounds of traffic. Gasping in fear, I start to shake.

Don’t panic don’t panic oh god he’s going to kill me I’m going to die.

Two more men emerge from the shadows on the far side of the Dumpster. Their heads are covered by hoodies, so I can’t see their faces in the dark, but they’re both broad and hulking, and both carry guns in their hands.

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