Eighty-something years is a long time to go without a drink.
Vicente paused in raising the coffee cup. Where had that thought come from? He shook his head to clear it; not having slept last night because of the dream in the white house.
He concentrated on the coffee shivering with the swaying of the train. The silver spoon rattled on the table. He looked out the window, framed by green velvet curtains to see where they were between Los Angeles and San Diego. From the looks of the writing on the buildings, they were chugging through an Italian quarter. The sunlight peaking over the hill seared straight into his eyes.
"God damn," he said, slamming the coffee cup on the mahogany table.
"More coffee, Mr. Sorolla?"
Vicente looked over his shoulder at Andy Munemitsu, who like him, had been recruited from the orange groves to transport product from the midnight deliveries along the coast. Now, Vicente was James McClemmy's personal secretary and Andy served as the butler and gunman when needed. They and a few heavies Vicente had personally selected traveled in the private Pullman car.
The bright sun had blinded him. All he could make out were Andy's white coat and his silhouette against the open windows facing the hazy ocean. "Go to hell."
"Very good, sir," Andy replied. He almost kept a straight face but then snorted out a laugh.
Vicente fought to keep from smiling.
"Good thing he's not here to see this," Andy said, whipping out a towel and then mopping away the few drops of coffee.
Rubbing his aching forehead, Vicente asked, "When are you heading back?"
"Right after I make sure you're fed and diapered."
"Well, I won't spend all your money all in one place."
Andy didn't live up to the stereotype of his race. He couldn't play poker for shit.
"I'll get it back and some." Andy held up the cup. "You done messing up my private car?"
"Not by half."
Andy muttered something in his father's tongue as he walked away. Vicente had long given up demanding the translation years ago.
With all these wild colors swirling and fading and reappearing before his eyes and the swaying of the train, his stomach felt as if it were crawling up his throat. He was almost home. His shoulders and neck tightened like screws. Six years of having vanished like a ghost, he was on the train from Los Angeles.
The train slowed and the brakes screamed against the wheels.
Ever since Mr. McClemmy had given him this assignment, Vicente hadn't slept. Would he face his grandmother and sister again, having left them all those years ago? And then there was Anna. They were three women he'd loved and hated; the ones he'd promised to take care of, but abandoned. They probably wouldn't even recognize him.
Vicente pushed himself up to his feet and walked to the windows facing the ocean. No point in thinking of them right now. Repeal was coming. With Mr. McClemmy's appeal hanging in the balance, Vicente had been sent to consolidate their territory and make sure they had import agreements in place. Once he accomplished his mission, he'd worry about the women.
"The conductor just informed me that we arrive in fifteen minutes," Andy said, shouting from the kitchenette. They never would've been this informal if the boss had been on board. But with the trial underway, Mr. McClemmy couldn't leave the county.
Vicente stared across the new airport tarmac at the San Diego Bay. It was a hazy blur of blue. He could almost smell the brine and feel the give of the sand under his shoes. If he closed his eyes, he might feel the wind and see her-
He staggered when the train pulled to a stop.
"Here," Andy said, holding the camel hair coat open for Vicente to slide his arms into the sleeves.
"Give it over."
"Let me do my job while I still have it."
Vicente gave him a dirty look and then yanked his coat free. He nearly caught his watch on the satin lining. Andy sighed. "At least let me open the door."
"See ya later," he said to Andy and then stepped out, letting the sun slide over his head before he put his hat on.
He was the first off the train. The porter ran over, holding his hat to his head. Andy's whistle cut sharp through the grumbling of the engine. He shouted at them to collect the trunks. Vicente walked across the tracks eager to stretch his legs and get to work.
He pushed through the crowd into the Santa Fe Depot. He paused under the giant bronze chandeliers. It was so small and quiet in comparison to the cavernous station in Los Angeles. To think he'd once thought this place glamorous when he'd admire the glossy Pullmans as he came to and from his job cleaning street cars. He shook his head and found the car waiting for him. He nodded to the driver as he stepped into the back. The walk to the US Grant Hotel was an easy one, but he wasn't a kid hustling papers anymore.
The doormen called out good morning as Vicente walked up the carpet and through the main entrance. He didn't recognize them from his days selling the afternoon paper. His shoulders tensed, expecting someone to quietly ask him to leave as if he were a mongrel who wandered in off the street.
But with a slight bow, the desk manager said good morning and they'd looked forward to his arrival. He then presented Vicente with the ledger and a silver pen. "If you'd sign here, please."
Vicente signed his Americanized name, Vincent Sorrelle.
"Welcome to San Diego, Vincent."
He glanced over his shoulder. Two feds stood behind him. The desk manager cleared his throat and kept his gaze on the ledger.
"Agents." Vicente handed the pen to the manager. "I'll be up in my suite later this afternoon."
The hotel manager kept his eyes averted. "Thank you, sir."
Vicente faced the agents, about to invite them to coffee as his boss had done when the U.S. Treasury goons had searched his wife's modest bungalow. Always be a gentleman to the men who were about to arrest you, was Mr. McClemmy's rule. It pissed them off.
But his smile froze on his face when he recognized the blue-eyed, curly haired agent. The older guy looked like a boxer who gave it up for a more lucrative line of work. "You come with us," he said loud enough to startle the guests in the lobby.
Ignoring his command, Vicente turned to the younger officer. "Good to see you again."
Agent Rick Campbell held out his hand. "I thought you looked familiar. Come back home?"
"This is Agent Hollner," Campbell said. "Agent Hollner this is-"
"I know who this spic is."
Vicente nodded a greeting to Agent Hollner, whose face turned the same color as the red carpets he had just trod upon.
"We know exactly what kind of business you're in," Hollner said.
"Yes, the dairy business," Vicente said, glad that Andy had stayed on the train. He would never have kept a straight face.
"Right," Agent Campbell said. "Minding the farm for the boss."
Vicente liked Campbell. He always thought of him with gratitude after he'd arrested him with decency.
"Your boss needs all the help he can get," Hollner cut in. "At least he's an honest crook, spilling his guts to his arresting officer."
"How can I help you?" Vicente said, almost offended that Hollner thought he could be baited that easily.
"Go back to the Mexicans," Hollner offered. "The sharks will move in and eat you alive when your boss goes to prison."
"Our dairy business is here in the U.S., not in Mexico. Far as I know, milk, eggs and butter aren't illegal," Vicente replied.
"San Diego's a small town, but we're not small time. After the Aqua Caliente killings, we've got a zero tolerance policy-"
"Your mayor and the coroner learned the hard way," Vicente said in a perfect imitation of his boss. He then strolled away from the desk and Hollner followed him like a dog in heat. "But my interests are of no concern to the law."
"We'll make sure of that."
"If you're not going to arrest me, I have to go to work."
Vicente held out his hand to Campbell in a friendly gesture as if Hollner weren't ready to boil over. "Glad to see you made something of yourself," Campbell said.
"The feeling's mutual."
As Campbell loosened his grip, Vicente bore down with all his strength and leaned in. "I'd like to contribute to the fallen officer's fund. My secretary will personally deliver the check."
He released Campbell and turned his back on them.
They let him walk out the main doors, but they'd stick a tail on him. Vicente made a bet with himself that it was the man in the blue suit sitting in a wingback chair by the door, reading the paper. The doors opened as he approached and he had two tens in his hand to tip the door men.
Vicente froze in place. The door men vanished. The sounds of the taxis honking and the gentle murmur of conversation abruptly switched off. The cool, damp morning was replaced by a stale mustiness. A moment ago, he'd headed out the door of the fanciest hotel in town. Now he stood on a scarred wood floor in a small room with sickly yellow walls. The fireplace was cracked and stained, its black mouth hanging open like some sleeping drunk.
He looked around, trying to remember how he'd gone from the lobby to here.
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