October 27, 2014, Monday
Kao sat with Tony in a corner of The Revisionist. Most of the lights were off because the bar hadn’t opened for the day, but Kristen was moving around doing inventory. The two men had a pitcher of beer between them and spoke in hushed tones.
“I have to talk to Biggie about this,” Tony said.
“I want him to be out, too,” Kao said. “I don’t want to see either one of you in jail. Shit, you’ve been out almost twenty years now.”
“Yeah, it’s going to be my china anniversary next summer.”
“I might have to get you something platinum.”
They laughed and got a glare from Kristen behind the bar.
“We ain’t talking about you!” Tony shouted.
“Better not be!” she retorted.
“I know you’re concerned about the young bucks, but you have to watch out for yourself sometime,” Kao said.
“Man, this is all I know though.”
“Tony, we’ll find something for you to do that you like. Biggie, too. I just can’t be connected to any of it anymore. Don’t you and Biggie have some kid lined up and you can pass it off to?”
Tony filled up their glasses. “Nah, man. These kids can barely tie their shoes. By the way, Billy says hello.”
“How’s L.A. treating him?”
“You guys don’t have someone like him? He learned in half a minute.”
“True, he did.”
“Even then, even how careful he was, he still got unlucky,” Kao said.
“Didn’t talk though.”
“No, no he didn’t. Just did his time. You ever think about going to L.A. to join him?”
“I ain’t got the movie star looks like him, and I’m too old, damn it.”
“But you can be the Asian Danny Trejo.”
“Nah, don’t got ‘nough scars on my face,” Tony said before punching Kao in the shoulder.
As Brandon pulled in front of his parents’ house, he gently stepped on the brakes to keep the pizza from flying off the passenger seat. No one answered when he announced himself inside the doorway. He set the pizza on the kitchen counter and saw his mother on the patio. The sun had just set.
He stood at the glass doorway and watched her smoke. She had a few cigarettes (“The first cigarettes I’ve had in decades.”) a couple days before, and Brandon hoped it hadn’t triggered a habit.
Mrs. Fair turned around when he opened the sliding glass door. She wasn’t smoking cigarettes.
“Oh, crap. You were bound to find out,” she said. “Why are you here early?”
“Why are you smoking the dope?” he asked jokingly.
“Don’t tell me you don’t smoke.”
“I maybe smoke once a year when I’m drunk and think I might enjoy it.”
“You don’t enjoy it?” she asked and held the joint out for him.
Brandon laugh. “It hits me wrong two out of three times. Feels like there’s an air bubble in my chest that I can’t burp out.”
“Well, more for me.”
Brandon laughed and lit a cigarette.
“Look who’s got the bad habits.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “I got vegetarian with sausage, the works and Hawaiian with bell peppers for Lizzie.”
“She said she’s not coming. Apparently, she had a rough day yesterday.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Why don’t you call Elaine and see if she wants to come?”
“She’s at work, ma.”
“That’s why I haven’t got a text message back from her.”
“Seriously? You’re texting her?”
“She likes reading mysteries.”
“You hate mysteries.”
“No, I hate most mysteries. I just want to make sure she’s reading the good ones.”
Kao’s Aunt May lived in the same house for more than twenty years. Her kids were gone. They had careers in Silicon Valley, New York and Washington, DC. Her husband passed nineteen years ago, the victim of an unsolved murder. But she loved the house, and it gave the kids a familiar home base when they were in town.
“You didn’t come by the restaurant this week,” Kao said when she opened the door.
“What are you talking about? I was there yesterday for lunch.”
“Why didn’t you pick up your check?”
“How else am I going to get you to come visit?”
Kao handed her an envelope with her share of the profits from the restaurants and bars. “You can always call me.”
“Your mother is worried about you.”
“She can always call me, too.”
“She’s more stubborn than you and your uncle used to be.”
“Why don’t you and Bruce come by this Sunday? We’re having a barbecue.”
“Any particular occasion?”
“No, just having some people over for football and what not. Starts around ten, usually lasts until about five.”
“I’ll have to check my schedule.”
Elaine shivered when she saw him walking through the produce section. Wade always showed up on her shifts, and though she didn’t keep track, she was sure she had seen him at work for the last month and a few times at the gym. Every now and then, she declined his invitations for coffee, but he didn’t do much more than say hello and make small talk about the weather and news.
He greeted her before taking pasta sauce, vanilla ice cream and toothpaste out of his basket and setting them on the conveyor belt.
Just as he was getting ready to start the small talk, Elaine saw Brandon out the corner of her eye and smiled. He carried three slices of pizza on a paper plate wrapped in clear plastic.
“Take your time,” Brandon said.
After paying for his items, Wade gave Brandon a dirty look.
“My number one fan,” Elaine said.
“I imagine you have many,” Brandon replied. “Speaking of which, please disregard the text messages my mother sent you earlier.”
“Is everything okay?”
“She wanted to invite you over for dinner.”
“Your mom’s a sweetheart.”
“That’s what you think now. Well, I didn’t know your lunch break, but my mother wanted me to drop this off.”
Brandon greeted the bouncer at the Cantina and chatted with him while finishing his cigarette. There were a handful of Cowboys fans who were out expecting to celebrate an early win, but they weren’t happy with how the game was going. He could see Dennis inside throw down a shot with a handful of people at the bar.
“How long has Dennis been here?” Brandon asked the bouncer.
“I just got here a few minutes ago, but I’m guessing he’s had a few.”
Dennis walked outside with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and his speech was slurred. He asked Brandon to go with him to his car. Inside the vehicle, Dennis got out a vial of cocaine and asked if Brandon wanted any. He shook his head.
When the football game went to overtime, Dennis collected a few hundred dollars from some Cowboys fans and bought a round of shots. An hour or so later, Brandon drove both of them downtown to his loft with the promise of making food for Dennis. But during the drive, Dennis just repeated, “I never cheated on her when we were engaged.”
Dennis passed out on the couch before he could even find what he was searching for on the television.
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